Texas Mayor Explains How The Government Shutdown Affects His Border City
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
President Trump has threatened to keep the government shut down for months or even years, according to Senator Chuck Schumer, unless Congress approves money for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. For reaction from the border, we turn now to Jim Darling. He's the mayor of McAllen, Texas. Hello.
JIM DARLING: Hello.
FADEL: So why don't you just first tell me your reaction to the government shutdown over the funding for the president's proposed border wall?
DARLING: It's kind of typical of what we've seen for the last four years where, you know, Democrats would come down and look at the detention facilities. And Republicans would take a ride on riverboat and then have a press conference and go back to Washington and not talk to each other. So we're kind of used to that. I mean, this has resulted in a shutdown, which is a little more serious. But we've had more congressional people and senators in the last five years than probably in the last 50 years that have come down here. So - and we see it firsthand, absolutely.
FADEL: So has that attention helped the border?
DARLING: You know, we were kind of ignored. I don't think we've seen the kind of money. You know, we all have bridges down here. Most of the cities own a bridge or two across the river. And we'd really like to see some attention paid to that, especially with a new, renegotiated NAFTA. But we haven't really seen that kind of aid come down as opposed to, you know, National Guard, Army, Department of Public Safety. So they're spending a lot of money but not anything on infrastructure that we really think we need and would be beneficial to the border.
FADEL: The president threatened to shut down the southern border. What would that mean for those bridges and that sort of cross-economic trade and things that are going on between the cities on those borders?
DARLING: We own two bridges. One of the bridges, a main pedestrian bridge, has over 10,000 people - pedestrians cross a day and probably an equal number in motor vehicles. The bridge right next to - in the city next to us is the largest import bridge in the country for produce, which means you won't buy tomatoes in about a week any place in the country. And you have maquila manufacturers. You have parts manufacturers on this side. So, I mean, you will shut down factories on both sides of the river. Millions of people will be put out of work. And - so how do you plan next week, for instance, if you're a factory manager? So...
DARLING: ...It's - it has serious consequences - not only, you know, the fact that if it did happen but just the rhetoric. And I think we've seen the impact of rhetoric in our area - has probably been pretty significant for us.
FADEL: What does that - when you say we've seen the impact of rhetoric, what does that look like?
DARLING: It's kind of interesting. You know, before we had the caravan, the President AMLO from Mexico said he was going to shut down the southern border. We had about 300 to 400 people a day, a caravan a week. That didn't generate any news.
DARLING: But that was really caused by rhetoric out of Mexico. And so, you know, the - if the politicians realize what they're saying really causes reaction. It all started in, you know, I guess in '14 when Obama said he's going to actually do immigration reform. That caused a real surge of people wanting to get here before it happened. And President Trump - when he talked about building a wall and the Mexican pay for it, I mean, we had that impact on us. We're kind of the No. 1 shopping spot for northern Mexico. And so that hurt us financially.
FADEL: So is the border wall the answer, in your opinion, for added security?
DARLING: In certain locations, a wall or a fence or some deterrent makes sense but certainly not one across the great swath of the border in places where, ecologically, the damage would be much greater than a security benefit. So it's really a political football, I think. And just saying we're going to build this great wall across the whole border makes no sense at all. And I think it - what it does is take away from some of the security issues that are there. You know, the crisis on the border since 2014 really dealt with asylum-seekers. So when they come across a river, they're coming across looking for Border Patrol to turn themselves in. And I always said the Border Patrol really needed more social workers to process those people.
FADEL: So what do you want to see from Washington, D.C.? You have the president saying, I want the money for this wall. You have the Democrats saying, we won't give you any of this money. What do you want from them?
DARLING: The answer is, you know, sitting down, do immigration reform and coming up with a reasonable budget for border security that's just not a fence and then, you know, dealing with Mexico and their drug problems. It wouldn't be as difficult to restore criminal justice in those countries if the cartels didn't have more money than the government. And so, you know, I mean, really taking a look at it, I thought if local governments couldn't handle a problem like that, we'd be - I wouldn't be mayor and rightfully so. But yet we keep re-electing people that won't come up with a strategy because of - it's polarized the country so much.
FADEL: Mayor Jim Darling of McAllen, Texas, thank you so much.
DARLING: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.