Paying a Visit; Colonia tour brings Pelosi into focus

Zachary Franz, Laredo Morning Times

Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi said she was deeply moved by her visit to a colonia outside Laredo on Saturday afternoon."Let me just say what an emotional experience it was for me earlier today to go out with (U.S. Rep.) Henry Cuellar to the colonia," Pelosi said in a press conference at La Posada hotel Saturday evening. "It was personal and emotional."

Pelosi spent the afternoon in and around Laredo, learning about issues that affect the region. Following the visit to Los Ranchitos colonia, off Highway 359, Pelosi toured the U.S. side of the Lincoln-Juarez International Bridge, then headed to La Posada, where local officials gave short presentations about border security and the importance of trade.

She also watched a short video outlining the city's River Vega project. Laredo officials, including Border Patrol Chief Carlos X. Carillo have proposed the project as an alternative to the border wall. Pelosi has spoken against the wall.

This was Pelosi's first visit to Laredo, and the first time any Speaker of the House has visited the city. Pelosi visited McAllen last month.

"I have come here to South Texas to say thank you for all that we have accomplished in (this Congressional) term," she said.

Pelosi said she was encouraged by what she saw at the bridge, and believes Customs and the Border Patrol are doing a good job of keeping the country safe. They still need more funding to speed up the border-crossing process for travelers, she said.

Pelosi said she recognizes the importance of efficient travel between Laredo and Nuevo Laredo, but that we must balance convenience with security.

"It's one community; there happens to be a border that goes through it," she said. "But we have a responsibility as a nation to secure our borders."

It was the colonia that seemed to make the biggest impression on Pelosi. She said she heard stories about the impoverished communities 20 years ago when she served on a congressional committee with U.S. Rep. Henry B. Gonzalez. Back then, the residents of those communities heard promises that they would soon get necessities like water and sewage, she said.

"In their faith they believed that would happen, and all these years later it hasn't happened," she said. "I look forward to helping in any way I can to remove red tape to getting access to federal funds."

Mayor Raul Salinas said he was glad that Pelosi saw the city for herself, and alluded to recent appearances by Laredo officials on the Glenn Beck show.

"It's great to see the Speaker of the House of Representatives come to Laredo and see the real Laredo instead of the Laredo that's being portrayed in the national media," he said.

Cuellar also thought the trip went well, and said he believes it will contribute to positive change. By seeing the poverty in the colonias and the long lines of cars at the bridge firsthand, Pelosi is more likely to work on fixing the situations, he said.

"She said we have to work on getting more funding for these people (working at the port) because they are understaffed," Cuellar said. "That was music to my ears."

"Nothing is going to happen overnight, but we've never had a Speaker of the House say, ‘Hey, I want to be part of the solution,'" he said. "When you get a Speaker of the House on your side, that basically means you've got a big head start."

(Contact reporter Zachary Franz at 728-2582 or by e-mail at