Congressman Henry Cuellar: A Border Wall Has No Home in South Texas
Washington | Charlotte Laracy, DC Press Secretary (202-226-1583); Alexis Torres, District Press Secretary (956-286-6007), September 2, 2020
I consider myself lucky to have grown up and lived on the border, a region home to the safest cities in the nation, as well as beautiful landscapes, bountiful wildlife, and rich culture. However, the most immediate threat to our community is not from Mexico, but rather from President Trump’s fixation on building a wall along the southern border.
The border wall comes with many costs, some obvious and some unforeseen. The most obvious is the large financial outlay required to build it; the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) estimates put the cost at $21.6 billion. The hidden costs include long-term maintenance and repair of barriers, gates, roads, and technology. Comparatively, the implementation of digital border security technology—or a “smart wall”— would be $500,000 per mile, significantly less than the $24.5 million per mile the physical wall is expected to cost.
Besides the financial cost, a border wall creates a host of additional problems. The 650 miles of border wall barriers in California, Arizona, New Mexico and parts of Texas have ripped through wildlife refuges, wilderness areas, and national parks, destroying habitats of endangered species and causing severe flooding. Further construction will harm the environment that our community cherishes.
Under the rules governed by the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC), created in 1889 by the United States and Mexico, any barriers along the border cannot disrupt the flow of the Rio Grande River. In order to comply with the IBWC, the wall does not snake along the Rio Grande Riverbanks, sometimes it has to be built up to a half mile north. This has created a ‘no man’s land’, an isolated zone of homes, ranchland, small businesses and nature preserves between the barrier and the riverbanks.
To obtain the acreage in this ‘no man’s land’ for border construction, the Trump Administration has initiated hundreds of eminent domain lawsuits against Texas landowners. I am resolute in my belief that private property rights should be prioritized over the use of eminent domain for border wall construction. The Trump Administration has failed to justify the national security requirements for a border wall. Their rational for a border wall is simple: to stop drugs and to stop people.
A physical barrier does not address the illicit trafficking of people and narcotics or the issues surrounding illegal immigration. According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reports on drug seizures, the vast majority of illegal substances are seized by CBP at U.S. ports of entry, compared to Border Patrol enforcement areas (between the ports of entry), where barriers construction is proposed. For example, in 2019, 92% of all DHS fentanyl seizures occurred at ports of entry, compared to only 11% by Border Patrol.
Focusing attention on drug trafficking at ports of entry would result in an increase in drug seizures, making America safer by keeping out some of the most dangerous substances affecting our population today.
The border wall has not solved the root cause of our unauthorized aliens living in the U.S.: visa overstays. According to DHS, since 2007, visa overstays have accounted for a larger share of the growth in the illegal immigrant population than illegal border crossings.
Overstays enter the U.S. legally on student, tourist, or work visas and then stay past their visa’s expiration date. Furthermore, what is the largest group of people who enter the U.S. legally and then overstay their visas? Canadians. I have not heard President Trump mention building a wall on the northern border.
Since the House, where I voted no, and the Senate voted on the Secure Fence Act of 2006, I have been a 100% staunch opponent of all border wall construction any border fencing in my border communities. As the Vice-Chair of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Appropriations, I tirelessly fought to prohibit any appropriated funds for border construction, as well as protect historic, cultural, and environmentally sensitive sites in South Texas, including the Sacred Heart Children’s Home in Laredo, from a border wall. I have also secured language that requires DHS to submit a comprehensive risk-based plan that identifies, and would purportedly justify, any additional border barrier construction. Unfortunately, I have not, nor anyone in the Appropriations Committee, has seen this risk plan.
If the Trump Administration wants to talk about sensible border security, then let’s talk. I have worked with both Democrat and Republican Administrations to implement effective strategies to protect our southern border, such as utilizing advanced technology, increasing personnel, and giving personnel the proper resources on the border.
Just because I do not support the President’s border wall, does not mean I will not continue support DHS and their mission to secure the border. I support the brave men and women in DHS by providing them with technology, personnel, and pay reform. I don’t believe in open borders; I believe in strong and sensible border security.
Just because border communities oppose this administration's border wall policies, does not mean that we stand to lose federal investments. Despite being one of the most outspoken opponents of the border wall, as the only Texas Democrat in the Appropriations, I have secured over $100 million in the appropriations for the modernization and expansion of the World Trade Bridge, Laredo Bridge 1, (Convent Avenue POE), as well as the construction of a new automobile and bus inspection facility at Laredo Bridge 2, (Juárez-Lincoln POE). I have also added millions of dollars for new border technology and additional CBP personnel at our ports of entry.
To ensure our nation’s leading aviation and maritime law enforcement agency has the necessary resources to safeguard our southern border, I secured $27 million for a new Air and Marine hangar facility in Laredo in the FY21 Appropriation bill. This hangar will be the first phase in what we hope is the creation of a multi-facility campus for federal law enforcement in South Texas. I have also included language in the FY19 Appropriation bill that encourages DHS to establish this new unified headquarters in Laredo. I will continue to work with any administrations until a DHS campus comes to fruition.
As a guardian of property rights, a steward of hard-earned tax dollars, and protector of wildlife and public lands, I will continue to fight against the construction of a wall in my hometown and at our southern border. You and your family deserve no less.
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