Valley mayors seek voice in border security debate

Local leaders urge against one-size-fits-all approach

Sen. John Cornyn, left, meets with mayors from around the Rio Grande Valley on Thursday at the Anzalduas International Bridge following President Donald Trump's visit to the McAllen area. Sen. Ted Cruz, not shown, also participated in the meeting. (The Monitor)

MISSION — As mayor of these parts, Armando O’Caña had one thing on his mind Thursday when the president came to town: protecting his city’s namesake, La Lomita Chapel, from being threatened.

While he didn’t have the opportunity to communicate this sentiment to President Trump, he did so when he met with U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, the two Republicans representing Texas.

“Washington is shut down, however the bulldozers are coming in February,” Mission’s mayor told the senators during a roundtable discussion with area mayors following the president’s departure.

Border wall construction is scheduled to begin in Hidalgo County next month, and parts of Mission — including the chapel and the National Butterfly Center — are in its path.

As Trump did not meet with any local elected officials during his brief trip to the border, except to shake hands, the roundtable was their only opportunity to try to influence the debate 1,500 miles away in Washington.

Mission mayor Armando O’Caña, left, and McAllen mayor Jim Darling greet Donald Trump on Thursday, Jan.10, 2018 in McAllen. (Delcia Lopez/The Monitor dlopez@themonitor.com)

Those in attendance, including the mayors of McAllen, Mission, Hidalgo, Granjeno, Peñitas, Rio Grande City, Roma, Donna, Weslaco, Harlingen and Laredo, as well the Hidalgo and Cameron county judges, voiced what they have long wanted to tell federal officials: the wall is not a one-size-fits-all solution to securing the border.

“Everyone is different. We have the wall; we still have activity going through there; we depend a lot on our border patrol …” said Granjeno Mayor Yvette Cabrera. “Representation from here needs to be involved in something like this (new border wall construction), because they need to be made aware of all the different areas because everyone has their differences.”

The one thing everyone in the room could agree on was the need for increased funding for ports of entry, where the majority of drugs smuggled through the country come through.

And for Sam Vale, the president of the Starr-Camargo Bridge Company and founder of the Border Trade Alliance, ports of entry can unify lawmakers from both sides of the aisle.

“What’s the only thing we all have in common? Ports of entry: The greatest source of our wealth and the greatest cause of our harm,” he told those at the roundtable, which fittingly enough, was held at the Anzalduas International Bridge.

While Cornyn and Cruz agreed the nation’s ports of entry need more funding, Cruz was quick to point out that border wall funding was an essential part of a spending package that would improve infrastructure at the international bridges in the Rio Grande Valley.

“There is an easy deal to be cut for something like infrastructure at our ports of entry, where the president would, in a heartbeat, add more infrastructure for the ports of entry,” Cruz said. “That’s an easy get, but it’s not going to be an easy get so long as Schumer and Pelosi’s position remains not a single penny can go to any barrier.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, have been just as insistent over not funding a border barrier.

While the Texas senators assured the mayors at the roundtable they would work to find a solution that, as Cornyn put it, includes “a common sense application of both physical barriers, technology and personnel … depending on what part of the border you’re talking about,” Mission’s mayor remains concerned time may be running out.

“While we’re talking the talk right now, the walking the walk is happening,” he told The Monitor afterwards. “We haven’t been able to impact (border wall construction) because they have not asked us.”

O’Caña’s staff has a meeting with local Department of Homeland Security personnel Friday, thanks to a call from Cornyn’s staff, but whether that will be enough to protect La Lomita remains to be seen.