In the third and final presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on Wednesday, Trump reiterated his call for a wall on the Southwest border, which would include the Rio Grande Valley.
“I want to build the wall. We need the wall,” Trump said during the debate in Las Vegas.
To that I respond: Not in my backyard.
If Trump would actually come here to the real border (not just to the Laredo airport) he’d see how impossible building a border wall would be, both fiscally and geographically.
If he came here to deep South Texas and walked the grassy banks of our Rio Grande, he’d see how the river curves and flows with irregularity. He’d see the many inlet cuts, trees drooping into the water and the marshy banks that change as the river does, depending upon seasons, drought and heavy rains. He’d see picturesque sections with wide girth between us and Mexico, and spots where one can throw a rock at our neighboring country and hit it.
Most importantly, he’d see that the river is not straight. So how could one possibly build a straight border wall here?
There are some areas here where some steel fences have been erected on the levee system, but most everyone will tell you that it’s a security joke and for a couple of reasons. Namely, the levee is set way back from the river — up to a mile at points from the water — and so those who cross the Rio Grande into our country illegally can still enter onto our soil before they come upon the 18-foot tall steel beams, which aren’t hard to get around.
Sporadic gaps in the fence are literally big enough to drive a truck through, especially in some farmland areas of Progreso. In fact, the gaps measure at least 20-feet-wide to accommodate Border Patrol trucks and tractors that farmers use to plow sugar cane.
The fence was built after President George W. Bush signed the Secure Fence Act of 2006, which mandated 670 miles of fence along the U.S./Mexico border. This was part of the same border security plan that Trump correctly referenced in Wednesday night’s debate that Clinton had also supported when she was a U.S. senator.
In Hidalgo County, 20.26 miles of the steel fence were built along with a concrete levee barrier and, much to the consternation of local officials who worried about the economic costs and social disruption to our life here on the border, where we regularly conduct trade and business with those to the south of us.
At the Old Hidalgo Pumphouse Museum and World Birding Center in the City of Hidalgo, the steel fence went right through the museum’s hike and bike trail and cut off sections of the historic property, which displays the first working pump to draw water from the Rio Grande circa 1909.
“They just put this nasty wall and they cut right across this property,” Shalimar Madrigal, marketing director for the City of Hidalgo told me. “We lost a lot of land.”
A river might run between us but we all know it doesn’t alienate us from one another, nor should it. Our country (and our Valley) has a symbiotic economic relationship with Mexico. In 2015, the U.S. conducted $52.4 billion worth of trade with Mexico. When they thrive, we thrive; when their economy dips, so does ours, as evidenced by slowing sales at La Plaza Mall right now at a time when the peso is falling in value.
And given Mexico’s current economic condition, I don’t believe there is any chance that the government of Mexico would agree to pay for any section of a Southwest border wall on the U.S. side, much less the entire 1,989 miles.
Recall that the government of Mexico wouldn’t even pay for an inspection station on the Mexican side of the Anzalduas International Bridge in Reynosa, which connects with McAllen, so that southbound empty trucks could cross easily and quickly from the United States into Mexico. According to an international charter, the bridge could have opened for commercial truck traffic beginning in January 2015, but Mexico wouldn’t fund its portion of the project. It took the relatively small City of McAllen to fork up $1.1 million of its own money to pay to build the inspection station on the Mexican side, as well as bridge improvements to make it sturdier to handle 18-wheelers, before it was able to be opened for commercial trucks this past August.
If Mexico wouldn’t pay $1.1 million to expand its own portion of the bridge, what makes Trump think President Enrique Peña Nieto will fund a border wall, which Trump himself has estimated at $8 billion to $12 billion for a 35-foot-tall to 50-foot-tall wall?
To quote Trump from Wednesday night: “Hombre” you’re dreaming.