Rio Grande Guardian
May 10, 2013
by Steve Taylor
RIO GRANDE CITY, May 10 - Opinion is divided among elected officials and
business leaders in Starr County over plans to build border walls in
Roma and Rio Grande City.
Starr County Judge Eloy Vera says his opinion on border walls has changed. He used to be strongly opposed to them.
“As you know, I was very negative about the border wall at one
time but I have seen how the walls have worked. Even though people find
it hard to admit, I will admit I was wrong. I think walls are effective
in certain areas,” Vera told the Guardian.
Asked if a border wall in Roma and Rio Grande City would give the
wrong impression to potential Mexican tourists, Vera said he did not
think so. “Those that are coming here legally are coming over our
bridge. At one time I thought it would be a negative thing, that we were
telling our neighbors that we were building a fence to keep them out.
However, I think a lot of that has smoothed out and they realize we
welcome them with open arms,” Vera said.
Vera said Border Patrol makes a good point when it says it is
difficult to apprehend someone in a city because it is easy to hide. “I
think they have a legitimate argument,” he said. For that reason, he
said, border walls may make sense in Roma and Rio Grande City.
Vera made his comments after participating in a stakeholder
meeting with U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and other local leaders at the
Starr-Camargo International Bridge last Monday. In all, Texas’ senior
senator spent four hours in Rio Grande City, accompanied by his wife
Sandy. He became the first sitting senator to visit the Starr-Camargo
Vera said Cornyn was asked what he thought about border walls for
Roma and Rio Grande City and his answer was that he would leave that
decision to the experts. “The Senator’s view was, if CBP feels it is
good idea he will back it,” Vera said.
Rio Grande City Mayor Ruben Villarreal said his view is that a
border wall is a “stigma” that reduces the attractiveness of a community
to potential tourists. However, he said he is resigned to Customs and
Border Protection building them, no matter what local opinion says.
“I would say opinion varies (about what to do to stop a border
wall being built). Nobody wants to see it happen. Do I think it will
happen? Probably, yes. I wish I could stop it. A fence is not going to
fix anything,” Villarreal told the Guardian and Action 4 News. “Without a
doubt if you have a border fence all of a sudden you have to deal with
an added stigma.”
Villarreal said what he wants most of all is good communication
with the federal government over the construction of a border wall.
“Whatever the government is planning to do… do not catch us off guard.
We want to prepare our people. We want to prepare our communities to be
able to deal with a border fence. Let us know, keep us in the loop,”
South Texas leaders can be partners with the federal government,
if they are given a chance, Villarreal said. “We understand that perhaps
their (CBP) solutions will not be the ones we are happy with but if we
inform our people at least you will have the benefit of saying we can
work with you towards a solution and not leave us out of the mix,”
Villarreal said an example of bad communication from a federal
agency came last September when the U.S. Section of the International
Boundary and Water Commission called a public meeting on the border wall
issue in Rio Grande City. “It was poorly organized. Information was
scant, and the people making the presentation were ill-prepared. That is
no way to do a meeting for the people. That was our first introduction
to the border wall. It was a disappointment,” Villarreal said.
Like Judge Vera, Villarreal participated in the stakeholder
meeting with Cornyn. “I was impressed with Senator Cornyn’s willingness
to engage on the issues. He said no subject was off bounds. We have 26
million people in Texas. Senator Cornyn came to a region that is a
little bit off the map for some but to us it is the entire world,”
The mayor said that on the subject of immigration reform, Cornyn
said nothing has been decided in Washington yet. “Senator Cornyn
promised us he would pretty much let us know everything he could to make
us as educated as he can. He said it is not about sealing the border it
is about finding a solution that is multi-faceted. He is on the right
track. It is not just one thing,” Villarreal said.
Villarreal added that Cornyn explained that he sometimes has a
hard time conveying to other senators what a dynamic border is all
about. “It is hard for one person. He is just one out of 100,”
The owner of Starr-Camargo International Bridge is businessman
Sam Vale, a former chairman of the Border Trade Alliance. The Guardian
and Action 4 News asked Vale what he thought about border walls coming
to Starr County.
“My view of the border wall is that it is a nice wrought iron
fence. It is not as horrible as people said it was. I would not mind
having it around my back yard,” Vale said. However, he questioned if it
was the most cost effective way of securing the border. He speculated
that it could be cheaper to have more Border Patrol agents.
“I do not think it is the horrible thing they say it is. On the
other hand I think it is very inconvenient to get to property that is
left on the south side of the wall. For those people who are left with
significant property on the south side of the wall it is a big economic
inconvenience,” Vale said.
Like Vera and Villarreal, Vale was at the stakeholder meeting
with Cornyn. He said the point he wanted to get across to the Senator is
that if more security personnel are to be deployed at border ports of
entry they should be specialists that meet the demand. For example, Vale
said, there is a need for more food inspectors because certain Asian
vegetables are now being grown in Mexico and exported to the United
States. “You have to have different types of inspection protocols. The
imports must not be a threat to the U.S. food supply. We need more
people trained in the agriculture identification process, more
supervisors for cargo facilities, and more inspectors at the primary
booths,” Vale said.