The Rio Grande Valley had a message for President Trump and the Republican lawmakers who visited Thursday: Dire warnings about a crisis on the border are bad for business.
“There’s this fallacy that the border is not secure,” Eddie Trevino, the top official in Cameron County, told Texas’ U.S. senators, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz. “It’s not a lawless, crazy, rogue, Third World nation down here.”
He and other members of the Texas Border Coalition — an organization of lawmakers and businesses — spent an hour with the senators and various border officials at a border crossing south of McAllen.
They complained that as Trump has ratcheted up his rhetoric, railing about drug traffickers and gang members to gain support for building a border wall and emerge victorious in his battle with congressional Democrats, people have become hesitant to shop, visit, work and invest in south Texas.
“We’re the ones who are collateral damage,” said Ambrosio Hernandez, the mayor of Pharr.
He and other local officials urged the federal government to invest in improving infrastructure and staffing at border bridges, which are essential to the local economy.
Sergio Coronado, the mayor of Hidalgo, said all the talk of an emergency is pushing away investors.
“A lot of the economic boom that exists here depends on people who come from Mexico,” he said.
The leaders said U.S. border cities are some of the safest in the nation and that Trump’s rhetoric was perpetuating a long-standing myth that south Texas is violent.
They were not necessarily against a wall. But they pointed out that a continuous barrier across the valley would have to be built far north of the meandering Rio Grande that forms the border and cut off certain communities on the banks.
The officials said they favored a “smart wall,” in which additional Border Patrol agents as well as cameras, sensors and other technology were as important as physical barriers.
Trump did not attend the discussion, having met earlier in the day with select officials at a local Border Patrol station. But the senators promised to share local sentiment with him.
Cornyn told the officials he understood their concerns: “We need to not only be concerned with security, but trade and commerce.”
He and Cruz said they accompanied Trump during his visit and talked with him on the flight to Texas. They said he would support border improvements if Democrats would agree to fund some form of wall.
“I believe he is open to negotiation,” Cornyn said.
Neither senator was willing to predict how long it would take to end the federal government shutdown, which started Dec. 22 when Trump and Democrats failed to reach an agreement on whether to fund the border wall. As part of new federal spending legislation, the president has requested $5.7 billion for the wall, which Democrats vehemently oppose.
The Rio Grande Valley has been predominantly Democratic for generations, but Trump has supporters here as well. Earlier in the day, a couple hundred gathered at the McAllen airport to watch his motorcade pass.
Marcus Pena, 25, an Army veteran and federal worker furloughed because of the shutdown, was living off his savings this week. But he still backed Trump in his standoff for a border wall.
Pena said he hoped the visit “shows Republicans they need to get in line,” emboldens Trump and “bolsters his desire to come through with a wall.”
But wall opponents had a much bigger presence. More than 500 protesters gathered near the airport, carrying signs that said “Our only crisis is the POTUS” and “Our home is not a crisis zone.”
Lindsey Ledezma, a 19-year-old cosmetology student, said she joined the protest because her mother, a longtime Border Patrol dispatcher, has been furloughed because of the shutdown and had to borrow $1,500 to pay bills.
“I don’t think Donald Trump realizes how many people he hurts with his actions every day,” Ledezma said.