By Alex Gonzalez
The economic success of border communities on the U.S. too often gets buried by on onslaught of sensationalized unsubstantiated “spillover violence” anecdotal “invasion” tales that do not match the FBI or DHS, National Counterterrorism Center (NCC) statistics and Costume and Border Protection (CBP). As a result, while border communities like Brownsville, Laredo, and El Paso, which happen to be predominately Mexican-American, have economically thrived due to the 6-time-increase of free trade between Mexico and the US, the political rhetoric of border security makes harder for conservative Republican candidates to tout their message of free trade and less regulations since they have to do the mandatory “porous border” claims. More importantly, when a Republican candidate pushes the idea of “border violence,” it inversely promotes the notion that border communities are still backward and plagued with lawlessness just because they are comprised of a large portion of Hispanics. This is bad for Latinos. It is bad for Republicans, and it is bad for free trade.
Understandably, if you are a Republican running in a border region, the main message would be to make Obama responsible for any lax Border Security measures, and thus, focus on pointing out any hole within the Department of Homeland Security led by Janet Napolitano. And that is the nature of politics. However, how far can a Latino Republican candidate push the idea of border security “spillover violence” without hard data to support the message? All the while giving those border communities as bad reputation as “war zone.”
If you Republicans who genuinely believe in the “spillover violence” in places like South Texas, Laredo and El Paso and want to make Obama appear weak on border Security, than you are going against the most sophisticated anti-terrorist Intelligence Agency (National Counterterrorism Center ) who have conclude that not terrorist have entered through US-Mexico border.
Significant fortification of the border with additional staff, equipment, and infrastructure to make access more difficult became the principal way policy-makers sought to address perceived border vulnerabilities. Along the way, these concerns were conflated with a growing call for restrictive immigration policy, and the so-called “sealing” of the border to keep out undocumented migrants, criminals and to halt exploding violence in Mexico from crossing into the United States. Despite these concerns, various public announcements (testimony, speeches, and the like) on the part of federal government officials in various agencies state a common theme: no significant terrorist threat to the United States has materialized in Mexico nor penetrated the U.S.-Mexico border since 2001. The State Department’s annual country reports on terrorism provide clear language to this effect…. “There was no evidence of ties between Mexican criminal organizations and terrorist groups, nor that the criminal organizations had aims of political or territorial control, aside from seeking to protect and expand the impunity with which they conduct their criminal activity…There was no indication that terrorist organizations used Mexico as a conduit for illicit activities.” —U.S. Department of State Country Reports on Terrorism 2010.
Similar statements were made by James R. Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, February 2, 2012.
“The Mexican cartels have a presence in the United States, but we are not likely to see the level of violence that is plaguing Mexico spill across the US border. We assess that traffickers are wary of more effective law enforcement in the United States. Moreover, the factor that drives most of the bloodshed in Mexico—competition for control of trafficking routes and networks of corrupt officials—is not widely applicable to the small retail drug trafficking activities on the US side of the border. “
Furthermore, all the border communities in Texas, and all other border states, are much safer than most metropolitan areas in the nation. Researchers at the Wilson Center for International Schools and Arizona State Center of North American have found that—based on the FBI, NCC, Custom and Border Protection (CBP) and DHS—there is “ insufficient evidence to suggest a pattern of spillover violence between Mexico and the United States that affects the major U.S. urban centers along the border,” Moreover, the most current number from 2011 show a continuation on the decline of crimes in border communities (see Figure 1).
Figure 1: Violence in Major U.S. Border Cities
But because the border security issue is more about politics than actual crime statistics and terrorist threats to our national security, Republicans in border regions may be compelled to hold the party line of “open porous borders,” and thereby, avoid giving Obama a victory on securing the border. However, the problem with this approach, especially for Latino Republican candidates, is that they indeed may only gain favorability from voters and groups in places like South Carolina and Iowa who still believe these “invasion” myths, but not with Latino voters in their districts who may perceive that chants of spillover violence and “invasion” as giving a bad image to the region.
Culturally, about half of the populating in border communities still shares cultural and family ties with neighbors on the Mexican side. Conversely, any candidates promoting a false “spillover” message maybe be perceived as insensitive to the progress of these communities have made in jobs and economic development in the past 10 years thanks to NAFTA. Therefore, Republicans do have an economic winnable message, but it must be a message that praises the border region for its economic progress and Latino cultural hard work ethic and family values, what W. Bush called Rio Grande Family value message. And there are lots of real positive achievements in border communities to talk about.
For example, Trade between the United States and Mexico is surging, up 17 percent in 2011 to a record $461 billion. Also, 40% of the imports to Mexico under Nafta come from Texas alone, and International points of entry between Texas and Mexico amount to about $230 billion annually. Most Americans think that the largest markets for U.S. exports are China and Japan. But the truth is that Canada and Mexico are the top two markets for U.S. exports. Most Americans also think that Saudi Arabia and Venezuela are the largest sources of our energy imports, but again, Canada and Mexico are more important. Beyond the economy and national security, our two neighbors have societal ties to the United States that make all other ethnic connections seem lean in comparison. By 2015, there will be about 35 million people in the United States who were either born in Mexico or whose parents were born in Mexico; that number exceeds the total population of Canada.
South Texas and El Paso have been Democrat strongholds for years. But so was the rest of Texas; including Rick Perry. So anybody can change their political ideology. Thus, Republican can have wining message if they stick to REAL economic messages that have made Texas business– friendly for all the new oil and gas jobs in south Texas.
Too, currently, border communities in Texas are successful because they have increased their free trade with Mexico; Texas and Mexico are getting ready to open a new high-speed rail line thanks bilateral trade. And that is something that is good for Texas, Latinos, and all those Republicans in the legislature who have passed these bills. So if you want to be elected in Texas, rather than keep perpetuating pervasive myths that are detrimental for the image of Latino border communities, embrace the progress of the community and stick up for the voters in districts who love their communities. It is important for Republican to keep a positive message based on economic facts–such as free trade, job growth, and family values–as opposed to myths of violence, to lure Latinos to the Republican Party.