McALLEN, RGV – The Rio Grande Valley is missing out on a golden opportunity to interact with dozens of members of Congress that are visiting the region to see first-hand the immigration of Central American children.

This is the view of Monica Weisberg-Stewart, a McAllen businesswoman and chair of the Texas Border Coalition’s immigration and border security committee.

“We are getting dozens and dozens of elected officials visiting South Texas but they are not seeing the big picture. They are visiting the detention centers and the refugee shelters but they are not seeing the bottlenecks on our international bridges,” Weisberg-Stewart told the Guardian.

Among the high profile national leaders to have visited the Rio Grande Valley in recent weeks are House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, House Homeland Security Committee Chair Michael McCaul, and U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minnesota. Many more are expected to visit once Congress recesses for the summer.

Monica Weisberg-Stewart
Monica Weisberg-Stewart

Weisberg-Stewart would like to see the Rio Grande Valley’s leaders in Washington, D.C., such as U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, and U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, help the Texas Border Coalition facilitate roundtable discussions with these visiting members of Congress.

Weisberg-Stewart noted that McCaul’s committee did hold a congressional hearing at South Texas College in McAllen earlier this month but said that event did not focus on the importance of international trade. Besides, she said, it was dominated by Gov. Rick Perry.

“It would be a wonderful thing for the visiting members of Congress to get with the business groups. Let’s show them the bridges. Let’s have a roundtable discussion about what it truly happening here. The congressional hearing was not real dialogue. At that hearing you had, what, Gov. Perry taking up two hours of it,” Weisberg-Stewart said.

The McAllen business leader said national leaders should be getting a more rounded view of life on the border because what happens here impacts the national economy. She pointed out that cost of produce purchased in the northern states during the winter is directly impacted by transportation costs as that produce comes through Texas from Mexico. She also pointed out that many U.S. motor vehicles have parts that are manufactured across the border in maquiladoras in Mexico.

“Mexico is Texas’ No. 1 trading partner. We are stifling the economy with these bottlenecks at the ports of entry. According to the General Accounting Office, CBP is short 6,000 in manpower and lacking in infrastructure and technology. We have very antiquated ports of entry. Some of them are 50 years old. They can’t handle the computer programs. Even the newer ports of entry are not up to par. You cannot open up new lanes at the ports if you do not have the personnel to operate them. You will look like a Walmart, with all those cash registers with no cashiers in them. We need the new technology, the x-ray equipment, the dogs. We have serious infrastructure issues,” Weisberg-Stewart said.

Weisberg-Stewart was keen to stress that visits by VIPs to the Border Patrol’s detention centers and the refugee shelters are very important. However, she said there is more to the Rio Grande Valley than the issue of Central American immigrants.

“Members of Congress, just like the national media, need to learn what this area is really about. They just come down here and see bits and pieces. They are not seeing the big picture. The national reporters set their chairs up by the river and they think that is it; that is the Rio Grande Valley. I was as on a radio station from outside of the Valley and they had the perception that we are in total disarray on this side of the border. That could not be further from the truth. If you do not visit the McAllen bus terminal or you are not close to Sacred Heart Church or you are not invited into the detention sites, you would not know that this was happening in our city,” Weisberg-Stewart said.

“What I would like to see is truly organized tours for these national leaders so they can see the big picture. We (TBC) would be happy to assist. You need to put your money where you get the biggest return on investment, which is at our ports of entry. We do not have the money for wasteful expenditures.”