By Rafael Bernal
April 21, 2017
President Trump’s tough rhetoric on border security has met expected resistance from Democrats, but many border Republicans have also questioned the need for a border wall.
Sen. John Cornyn, the number-two Republican in the Senate, has said “there’s parts of our border which it makes no sense,” and that when President Trump talks about a wall, “he’s speaking metaphorically.”
Of nine House districts on the southwest border, three are controlled by Republicans, all of whom have voiced some level of opposition to a border wall.
Reps. Martha McSally (R-Ariz) and Will Hurd (R-Texas) last month sent Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly a letter questioning a $1 billion request for “planning, design and construction of the first installment of the border wall.”
“An expenditure this large, and submitted with limited details, deserves additional scrutiny to ensure funds are being used effectively in pursuit of our shared goal of securing the southwest border,” the letter read.
Hurd went further, saying a wall would be “the most expensive and least effective way to secure the border.”
New Mexico Rep. Steve Pearce (R), an early Trump supporter, said in February a wall won’t work, because “you can come over it, under it, around it, through it.”
Republican border senators haven’t expressed much support either.
Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake have given little credence to the idea on fiscal, legislative and diplomatic grounds.
Sen. Ted Cruz a strong proponent of a wall as a presidential candidate, has recently been less vocal on the issue. Asked Tuesday if border wall funding should be in the budget ahead of the upcoming funding deadline, he said Congress “should use the power of the purse, use appropriation, to implement good policy.”
Although Trump won Texas and Arizona pledging to build the border wall and end or renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, the practical consequences of the two proposals have met stiff resistance along the border, particularly in Texas.
Much of the land along the Rio Grande is privately owned, and an international treaty bans construction on the river’s floodplain.
That’s created two challenges for federal authorities: The use of eminent domain to acquire private lands is unpopular, slow and expensive; and a wall built north of the floodplain would leave some private lands on the Mexican side of the wall.
And in many border communities, especially larger cities with busy ports of entry, talk of border security often takes second billing to discussions about how to speed up cross-border trade.
“Of course we want to see security, but we’ve got issues with infrastructure, we’ve got issues with having enough equipment on our bridges, and we want to coordinate with Mexicans more,” said Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas).
Cuellar’s district includes the city of Laredo, the busiest port of entry on the border. In the first two months of 2017, of all land, sea and airports nationwide, Laredo ranked first in total value of exports, and fourth in total value of imports.
Texas is the most dependent U.S. state on trade with Mexico, with almost a third of all Texas exports and imports traded with Mexico.
Binational metropolitan areas that host cities on each side of the border rely on cross-border freight shipments and individual border crossings for tourism, shopping, medical attention, family visits and entertainment.
The largest such metropolitan area is El Paso-Ciudad Juarez.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly visited the El Paso side of the border on Thursday.
Neither addressed regional economic development in their statements, focusing instead on the administration’s immigration enforcement actions.
“This is ground zero – this is the front lines, and this is where we take our stand,” said Sessions.
The characterization of El Paso as “ground zero” raised eyebrows among the region’s business community. It is struggling to attract investments and dislikes statements that make the area seem like a crime zone.
“It becomes incredibly frustrating for those of us who are born and raised along the border, to continue to hear the rhetoric and inaccurate facts about our region being a violent, lawless frontier. It is anything but that,” said Jon Barela, the former New Mexico secretary of Economic Development under Gov. Susana Martinez (R).
Barela is now the CEO of Borderplex Alliance, a non-profit corporation dedicated to expanding business in the El Paso-Ciudad Juarez-southern New Mexico region.
Border leaders are especially sensitive to talk of violence in the region, which they are quick to promote as one of the safest in the country.
A 2016 Texas Tribune analysis of state and federal data confirmed that border cities were among the safest in the state.
“Some of us just roll our eyes when somebody comes in from Washington and talks about security and they’re missing part of the essence of border life,” said Cuellar.
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