HIDALGO, Texas (AP) — U.S. Sen. John Cornyn renewed the call for a $6 billion investment in the country’s ports of entry to improve security and the efficient flow of job-creating commerce at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Cornyn, flanked by elected officials and business leaders from the Rio Grande Valley, also gave a more restrained explanation of spillover violence, which in the past he had described as “real and escalating.”
“I think you’d have to draw a very clear line right along the border. And on the north of the border it’s among some of the safest cities and communities in the nation, including where we’re standing today,” Cornyn said Tuesday under the withering heat at the Hidalgo International Bridge. “I think the American people need to be very clear ... that the border communities themselves on the United States side are very safe.”
To maintain that status while allowing the 4.9 million trucks that cross the southern border every year to do so without costly delays, Cornyn proposed adding 5,000 additional Customs and Border Protection officers spread across all U.S. ports of entry. The funding also would allow expansion and modification of existing ports of entry, many of which were not designed for the newer outbound inspections where officers search for undeclared cash and weapons headed into Mexico.
Cornyn noted that CBP ranks have grown in recent years, but said more officers are needed.
“It’s not nearly enough to allow them to do what they do best which is to make sure the border is secure and to make sure that legitimate trade and traffic continues across our borders,” he said. “It’s a jobs issue; it’s a security issue, but it’s vital to the economy here in the Rio Grande Valley.”
Many of Cornyn’s figures echo a 2007 report from the Government Accountability Office, which noted that the agency’s managers at land ports said understaffing contributed to “morale problems, fatigue, lack of backup support and safety issues when officers inspect travelers — increasing the potential that terrorists, inadmissible travelers and illicit goods could enter the country.”
The past two administrations made huge investments in Border Patrol, adding thousands of agents who patrol the areas between the ports of entry.
“But we believe the land ports of entry, the commercial ports of entry where trade and commerce take place in this country, we feel that has been neglected,” said Hidalgo Mayor John David Franz, who introduced Cornyn.
Cornyn introduced similar legislation in 2007 and 2009. The Texas Border Coalition, a group made up of business and elected leaders along the border, has called for similar steps and endorsed Cornyn’s legislation in the past.
Monica Weisberg-Stewart, chairwoman of the coalition’s Border Security and Immigration Committee and a McAllen business owner, said Tuesday that Cornyn’s latest proposal is under review and will have to face a vote by the coalition’s membership before an endorsement is offered.
She was pleased to see the addition of an item calling for communications systems that would connect federal authorities at the port with local law enforcement, which has been an obstacle in the past.
With efforts to rein in federal spending, Weisberg-Stewart said she was “conservatively optimistic” that the legislation might have a chance.
“I have lost business to rhetoric,” Weisberg-Stewart said of the lawless image some paint of the border. Real danger does lie across the border in Mexico and she said so far the rhetoric had not led to real investment in security. She said the ports of entry are the country’s frontline of defense. “It’s time for our government to start investing in it.”