Input from border mayors sought on wall

While White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly told Congressional Hispanic Caucus members Wednesday that he valued their input, he also expressed a desire to hear from local officials about the proposed border wall many have already taken a stand against.

“One of things he mentioned that was interesting: ‘We want to listen to members of Congress on the border but we also want to hear from governors and mayors.’ He emphasized that several times,” said U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, following an hourlong meeting Wednesday morning regarding a long-awaited deal on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Kelly told the group President Donald Trump wants DACA recipients to stay in the country, but that a deal would not get done without some concessions from Democrats on border security, which is the area Kelly wants feedback from border officials.

Just last September, elected officials from McAllen, Edinburg, Pharr, San Juan, Alamo, Palmview and Sullivan City made themselves clear on that issue and were unanimous in their decision to make their opposition to border wall construction formal.

They joined other Valley cities that passed similar anti-border wall resolutions, including: Brownsville, Mission, La Joya, Weslaco and the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court.

Shortly after the resolution passed, McAllen Mayor Jim Darling cited physical barriers, the possible impact to property owners, as well as potentially damaging relationships with friends and business acquaintances in Mexico, as reasons why a border wall would be a detriment to the region.

“What happens is, we already have a border here in Texas and it is an impediment to illegal entry to a certain extent,” Darling said before remarking about the proposed wall being located further within the country as opposed to directly along the border.

“The way it meanders, you cut off people’s property rights, unless you’re gonna build one along the river, which is impossible to do. So, to me, it’s a different situation from just the physical condition of our border here and the effect on property owners that are gonna be south of, what I call, a newly defined border.”

Gov. Greg Abbott toured the Valley last February with Kelly when the former Department of Homeland Security Secretary visited during his second week on the job.

“At that time, the governor stressed the importance of strengthening border security, and since has been very active working with the administration on border-related issues,” Ciara Matthews, Abbott’s deputy communications director, wrote in a statement Thursday. “The governor wants to achieve safety and security along the border, while also promoting economic development, and he will continue to work with the administration to achieve that goal.”

Last week Trump, despite telling congressional leaders to bring him a bill on DACA to sign, rejected a bill on Dreamers drawn up by a group of bipartisan senators.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders earlier this week told reporters that the deal failed to provide sufficient funds for border security — an element Trump has said repeatedly must be included in any deal for Dreamers.

Democrats had hoped that the government shutdown could be used as leverage for a deal, but Cuellar said Monday — while at a gathering with the media in McAllen — that he would not vote for a government shutdown under any circumstances. In September 2017, the Trump administration announced its intent to end the Obama-era executive order, with a deadline set for March 5.

Since then proponents of the program have demanded a clean Dream Act, a bill that would protect the more than 700,000 recipients from deportation, and that wouldn’t include concessions on border security or border wall construction.

On Wednesday, more than 50 organizations drafted and signed a letter addressed to key members in the house and senate asking them to oppose any border wall funding.

“Bipartisan solutions should not include funding for structures that will destroy ecosystems and tear communities apart,” the letter states in part. “Limited resources would be much more wisely invested in modernizing and adequately staffing our ports of entry, which would enhance both national security and facilitate efficient commerce with our third-largest trading partner.”

mferman@themonitor.com