ALAMO, RGV – Congressman Filemon Vela visited Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge with Jim Chapman and Scott Nicol of the Sierra Club of the Rio Grande Valley on Friday.

There is talk that a border wall could be built through the middle of the refuge because it is situated on the Texas-Mexico border. Wildlife enthusiasts say that would be a disaster to the environment and to the Rio Grande Valley’s fast-growing eco-tourism industry.

U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela

Vela said that has the U.S. House of Representatives has already passed a bill that provides $1.6 billion for a border wall, every effort must be made to block such funding in the U.S. Senate.

“I think the House funding the $1.6 billion border wall is a disaster and the fact we have five Democrats that voted for it is appalling,” Vela said, referring to two members of Congress from Arizona, one from New Jersey, one from Florida and one from Georgia.

Vela said forces in opposition to the border wall must also be mobilized at the local and state level.

“I spoke with Senator Schumer’s office yesterday. I talked to our state (Democratic) party chair, Hinojosa, today. I think we need to mobilize on all fronts from the standpoint of those of us who represent the border region in Congress. We need to talk to our local elected officials and to our state party apparatuses. Because, at this point, all of our hopes lie with the Senate. We hope the Senate will be reasonable enough to stop this ridiculous funding.”

Vela went on to say that the border wall initiative is, at its core, a racist measure.

“To me the border wall funding measure in the last budget is pure… I am calling it racist, pork-barrel politics.” Asked why it is racist, Vela said: “The fact you would put $1.6 billion of funding on the U.S.-Mexican border – you put this in the context of everything else this president has to say about this country’s relationship with Mexico and people of Hispanic descent. I do not see how you can interpret it any other way.”

X-Raying every single truck

Congressman Vela, a Democrat from Brownsville, was also asked about another Trump idea, to x-ray every single truck that crosses the U.S.-Mexican border. Vela responded:

“As the ranking member of the Border, Maritime, Subcommittee for Homeland Security, I have visited our ports of entry in San Diego, El Paso, and, obviously, here in the Rio Grande Valley and if you talk to anybody involved with business at these bridges, if we force our CBP officers to physically step every single vehicle… the lines are long enough as they are.”

Vela said x-raying every single truck at port of entries on the southwest border “would have a devastating, chilling effect on the flow of business and auto traffic across these borders.” He pointed out that Customs and Border Protection has yet to fill the employment slots it already has. Giving the agency even more work is impractical, Vela argued.

“The fact is, Congress funded 2,000 Border Patrol officers and CBP officers, more or less, over three years ago and we still 700 short on each side. In all fairness, we can’t just blame the Trump Administration for that, but the Homeland Security Department has a very difficult time filling those slots. It is kind of hard to comprehend when you consider there are so many people in this country unemployed,” Vela said.

“The president wants to add thousands and thousands of more Border Patrol agents, and CBP officers. Well, if we can’t even fill the ones that we funded three years ago, why are we even talking about that. It seems to me the more measured approach here is to fill the current spots that were funded three years ago, assess whether or not, once those were filled, whether that meets the need, and then take it from there. Rather than some blanket statement that we are going to go hire 15,000 new officers.

Vela said he recently toured the four international bridges in Cameron County. “They are having a tough time because there are not enough officers to handle the traffic. Talking to CBP management and personnel, that (giving them more work to do) would be stifling.”

Total Standstill

Monica Weisberg-Stewart, chair of the Texas Border Coalition’s immigration and border security committee, spoke about the Trump Administration’s proposal to x-ray every truck crossing the U.S.-Mexico border when she appeared on at an RGG LIVE event on Facebook. In conversation with Rio Grande Guardian publisher Mark Hanna, Weisberg-Stewart said there would be total standstill at the ports if this was to be implemented.

Monica Weisberg-Stewart

“One hundred percent verification of x-raying all trucks coming in from Mexico at our ports of entry? In a perfect world, if I was sitting in Mid-America, they would say, what do you mean we don’t check every truck coming into this country. What do you mean we are not doing this already? The reality is you have very well-trained men and women in blue who, they are able to detect anomalies. But to go through the x-ray system, that is a whole other issue,” Weisberg-Stewart said.

The McAllen business owner said land ports of entry have different types of x-ray systems. “You have something like an x-ray, something that is like a Cat Scan, and something that is like an MRI.” She said their capabilities are different.

“In reality, our ports of entry, as we have said for the last ten years, are under-funded, under-manned, technology is not up to par, bandwidth is not working, we have electric grids that are not working because the funds have not been appropriated for this area,” Weisberg-Stewart said.

“We have, in theory, certain things that might make sense but in reality, they don’t. The hardest thing, when we go to Washington and Austin is to explain the realities of the border. When you get something like, all trucks at 100 percent, you are talking, in our language, backlog, backlog, backlog. Trucks that are going to be sitting there long hours. Vegetation in trucks that will get rotten very easily. Loss of money.”

In the RGG LIVE conversation, Weisberg-Stewart also spoke about the Texas Border Coalition’s long-standing opposition to a border wall.

RGG LIVE: Texas Border Coalition's Monica Weisberg-Stewart discusses immigration, border security, and the border wall.

Posted by Rio Grande Guardian on Thursday, August 3, 2017