County judge and area mayors invite president to tour international bridges during visit

A Customs Border Protection Special Response Team member patrols at the Hidalgo-Reynosa International Bridge on Friday, Nov. 9, 2018, in Hidalgo. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez and five border mayors sent a letter to the White House Tuesday afternoon, inviting President Trump to a personal tour of the international ports of entry.

The invitation comes two days before the president’s scheduled visit to McAllen, where he is expected to make a case in support of additional border barriers.

The letter from Cortez and mayors Jim Darling of McAllen, Ambrosio Hernandez of Pharr, Sergio Coronado of Hidalgo, Armando O’Caña of Mission and Pete Saenz of Laredo, however, made no mention of a border wall. Instead, they welcomed the president and asked him to strengthen operations at the international bridges between the United States and Mexico, which account for about $2 billion worth of economic activity on a daily basis.

Trump announced he would visit the southwest border earlier this week, but details about his visit remained elusive Tuesday, prompting the Texas Border Coalition, a group of elected officials from Brownsville to El Paso, to offer some suggestions.

“Dear Mr. President, as the leaders of one of the fastest growing counties in the State of Texas, we look forward to your presence in our region this week,” the letter from the coalition began. “During your visit, we would like to personally host you and your team for a tour of one of our three busiest ports of entry; the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge, Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge or the Anzalduas International Bridge.”

Citing a $4 billion deficit for needed improvements at the ports of entry and a “concern for border security,” they asked Trump to focus on the country’s legal points of entry.

“Our officers and their facilities are stretched thin, face an overwhelming opponent in the international drug cartels, and deserve all the support you may be able to offer,” the elected leaders wrote.

Drug cartels prefer to smuggle contraband through the ports, they said, citing a report from U.S. Customs and Border Protection that indicated about 90 percent of drugs seized, including cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and fentanyl are smuggled into the U.S. through the ports.

The leaders also called for an increase in inspection personnel and cited a CBP workforce analysis that found an additional 4,000 inspectors are needed at the ports.

“Current facilities cannot handle the traffic flow, causing long wait times and costing the U.S. economy millions of dollars,” the letter continued.

Additional personnel, infrastructure and technology would help increase the “current low percentage” of vehicles inspected by CBP, which stands at 18 percent, they said.

Tuesday’s letter follows a previous one the coalition sent to Washington earlier this month after Trump threatened to close the border via a Tweet. In the Jan. 3 letter, the coalition warned about the “catastrophic” impact such action would have not just on the border, but the rest of the rest of the country as well.

“The negative impacts of a border closure would not be fleeting; in fact, we are already witnessing some anecdotal evidence of a slowdown of economic activity merely as a result of the threat of some future closure,” the coalition wrote. “The increased uncertainty of the reliability of trade relationships could impact long-term flows of capital and goods across the border — impacts (that) would be felt across the nation.”