WESLACO, RGV – Reaction is coming in thick and fast to the news that President Trump has signed an executive order to jumpstart construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Elected officials at a Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council meeting were reading the breaking news on Twitter as they discussed regional business. After the meeting, two of the officials, Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez and Los Indios Mayor Rick Cavazos were interviewed about Trump’s executive order. They had different opinions.
Los Indios Mayor Rick Cavazos
The immigration system in this country, I think most people would agree is broken. It needs to be reformed. The security aspect of the immigration system needs to be addressed. We need to know who is coming into this country. We need to vet the people who are coming in. There is a system in place to come in legally. But, right now we have the southwest border, in particular, that is wide open. People are coming in and we don’t know who they are,” Cavazos said.
“There is a lot of suffering with the people that come in, the migrants, the smugglers. There are a lot of migrant deaths. There are a lot of unaccompanied minors. We need to get back to the process where we are doing it legally, that way the people can come in and get the documents they need, if they pass the vetting system.”
Cavazos has been mayor of the tiny community of Los Indios for just over a year. His city sits right on the Rio Grande, with many homes just a hundred yards or so from the river. Cavazos offers a unique perspective. He is an elected official who has also served in a law enforcement role on the border. He served his country as a Border Patrol agent for 24 years, rising to the rank of supervisor.
Specifically addressing the issue of a border wall, Cavazos said it is a necessary component for border security, but that it should not be the only component.
“A border wall is important for border security. But, I also feel it is not necessary throughout the southwest border. The border wall needs to be erected in the metropolitan areas, the densely-populated areas so that the traffic can be pushed out to the more remote areas, to get them away from the neighborhoods, get them away from downtown,” Cavazos said.
“There are some neighborhoods along the river that are about 100 yards from the river. You get illegal activity going on. The next thing you know, it is in the neighborhoods and then there is a safety issue for the people residing there. We need to be able to control that traffic, so putting a barrier up, in those instances, I could see how that would work.”
Cavazos said other components in a comprehensive border security strategy should be more infrastructure, more technology, and “probably more Border Patrol agents to adequately control the southwest border area.”
Cavazos said: “The barrier in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing. It is a way to keep people safe, to keep the drugs out and give law enforcement the tool it needs to be able to effectively intercept the crossings and be able to arrest those subjects that come into this country illegally.”
However, he did have sympathy with the plight of migrants.
“We can all sympathize with the migrants and we understand they come here for a better life. But, in my opinion, we want everyone to be documented. We want to know who they are and what their purpose is. Are they going to go back? Are they going to stay and work? You hear the horror stories almost weekly about migrant deaths, separation of families, high speed pursuits.”
Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez
Mayor Martinez of Brownsville was more critical of a border wall than Mayor Cavazos.
“It gets to be almost absurd, the rhetoric we are hearing. This was a gentleman (President Trump) who said we are going to hear from the voices who have not been heard. We are the people’s choice, regardless of which way you voted. I think it is time to hear all the voices. We all Americans. We all have the ability to express our opinions and thoughts and feelings,” Martinez said.
“The whole subject of this matter is security. There is nobody who is opposed to security. How do you offset that and carry it out in a fashion that you should? I was with the mayor of Matamoros on Monday. That issue we are talking about (security), we are constantly trying to figure out. We are constantly trying to figure out the best way to keep everyone safe. We know we are safe in Brownsville. How do we keep Matamoros safe? How do we keep the whole area safe? It is not by a wall. It doesn’t make any sense.”
Martinez said he would like to see flood control at the center of any infrastructure project related to the Rio Grande.
“When you are doing something constructive, when it accomplishes two purposes at the same time, what more common sense approach could be better? I hope the American people are tired of this rhetoric. They do not want to hear about ways to isolate you. Isolationism has never worked. If you read your history books, that is a tough sell. Especially when you have got a president who has got business enterprises throughout the world; then it makes even less sense. Are we paying attention to facts or are we paying attention to alternative facts?”
Asked what impact a border wall would have on border business, Mayor Martinez said it was mostly bad optics. He said he was very concerned about ideas being floated around of having Mexican visitors pay more in crossing fees in order to finance a border wall.
“We have had the wall for a while. We go back and forth. There are still three or four or five thousand people that cross every day. I am more concerned about the tariffs that are being tossed about. You do not need any more sanctions that require people who unfortunately are already having economic hardships because of the rising cost of gas or the plummeting peso devaluation. Common on, let’s get real.”
Asked what he would say if he could get an audience with President Trump, Mayor Martinez said: “I would highly recommend that the input of the citizens of the border be heard and have their voices duly understood. The people of this area are basically one people. It just so happens that a river runs through it.”