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Public Statements

U.S.-Mexico Border

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. O'ROURKE. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak about a place that is very near and dear to my heart, a place that is the source of great beauty, the source of millions of jobs for this country, an economic driver, not just for the region that I represent, not just the State in which my district resides, but for this entire country and, for that matter, this hemisphere.

I am here today to speak about the U.S.-Mexico border, and I have the privilege and honor of serving with other Members who represent significant sections of the U.S. side of the U.S.-Mexico border. We are joined today by Susan Davis from California; Pete Gallego from Texas; and Filemon Vela, who is also from Texas. But before I yield to them, I want to talk a little bit about my special section of the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso, Texas.

El Paso is home to more than 800,000 people who, along with the citizens of Ciudad Juarez, form one of the largest binational communities anywhere in the world. El Paso has for decades served as the Ellis Island for Mexico and much of Latin America. Literally millions of immigrants who are now U.S. citizens, who are productive members of our communities, have passed through the ports of entry in the district that I have the honor of representing.

Beyond that and beyond the human dimension of what the border produces, the beauty, the wonder, the creativity, the culture that develops from there, the border also is an important part of who we are as a country and our past. It is one of the most essential places anywhere in the United States today, as seen by the debate that is taking place in the Senate; and it is the future of this country, whether you look at it demographically, whether you look at it economically, whether you look at it culturally or by any other measure, the border is absolutely critical to the United States.

I want to talk about a couple of aspects that help to define this critical place that the border holds for this country. I thought I would start with trade. There are more than 6 million jobs here in the United States that are dependent on the trade that crosses our ports of entry at our southern land ports between the United States and Mexico. More than 100,000 of those jobs are in the district that I represent in El Paso, Texas. The State of Texas itself has 400,000 jobs that depend on this trade. More than $300 billion a year flows between our two countries. Mexico is the second largest export market for the United States. We are the largest export market for Mexico. And a critical aspect of the trade that comes into the United States from Mexico that is very important to remember is that unlike any other trading partner that we have, more than 40 percent of the value of the trade that comes north from Mexico originated in the United States. So we are literally producing together even those things that are imported into the United States from Mexico.

Again, Mexico is a source of jobs. It's the source of so many things that are positive to our economy, our culture, and to our communities; and all that comes to a head at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Now, if you're listening to the debate that is taking place right now about comprehensive immigration reform and some of the provisions that have passed out of the Senate and some of the commentary that you read in the newspapers or the talking heads that you see on TV, you might not know that. You might instead see the U.S.-Mexico border as a source of anxiety, as a threat to this country's security and its future, as something to be feared, to be locked down, to be secured, and to be forgotten.

We're here to tell you today that the facts and the truth and the reality could not be further from the current debate that you're hearing on the public airwaves today. In fact, the community that I represent, El Paso, Texas, is the safest city in the United States bar none. It was the safest city last year in the United States, and the year before that. In fact, for the last 10 years, El Paso, Texas, has been among the five safest cities anywhere in the United States.

But El Paso is not alone for its security along the U.S.-Mexico border. San Diego is the second safest city in the United States. Laredo recently ranked as one of the top safest cities of any city in the United States. In fact, if you're on the U.S. side of the U.S.-Mexico border, chances are you're safer there than you could be anywhere else in the country.

And these benefits do not just accrue to El Paso, to Texas, and to the border lands. There are jobs, tens of thousands of jobs, hundreds of thousands of jobs in States throughout the country, billions of dollars of economic growth related to our trade with Mexico, not just in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and California, but Montana, Florida, Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan. Again, it is important to emphasize that even that trade coming north from Mexico in many cases originated in these other States that are not border States.

So one of the messages that we hope carries from today is regardless whether you are in El Paso, Texas, and understand the border inherently, or if you're in Detroit, Michigan, you have a vested interest in a healthy border. A healthy border equals a healthy U.S. economy. That equals more jobs, more economic growth, and more positive factors for the U.S. going forward.

So with that introduction of what it is that we hope to cover today, I now want to yield to Pete Gallego, who by land mass represents almost a quarter of the State of Texas, someone who has served in the State legislature, someone who lives and understands the border and can speak to the positive dynamics that we see there.

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ith me that we are very pleased to see progress being made in the Senate. Whether it was originally with the Group of 8 or the 60 or more Senators who have since joined them in key supportive votes to move this forward, I'm happy that we're making progress.

What concerns me are some of the provisions that specifically relate to the U.S.-Mexico border:

You're talking about 600 miles of border fencing and walls that currently exist being expanded to more than 1,400 miles of the 2,000-mile border. You're talking about a Border Patrol force that today is more than 20,000, which is more than double what it was in 2001, being doubled yet again to more than 40,000, and all this for the cost of upwards of $50 billion a year. And as Representative Gallego pointed out, this is at a time of tight budgets, of sequester, of record deficits and debt. We simply can't afford to move forward like this.

But I will grant the proponents of these measures this: there's a certain crude logic to that. If you have a problem with immigration, if you have a problem with flows northward from Mexico and Latin America, then putting a wall in place, doubling the Border Patrol that's patrolling that line, there's a crude logic to it. And it's a solution, albeit a 19th century solution, as our Senator said, to a problem, but it is a problem that, by all accounts, does not exist.

Net migration from Mexico last year was zero. We had record southbound deportations, record low northbound apprehensions. We're spending $18 billion a year on border security, twice what we were spending in 2006.

As I mentioned before, we've more than doubled the size of the Border Patrol, and the border is as secure as it has ever been. El Paso, the safest city; San Diego, the second safest. The U.S. side of the U.S.-Mexico border is the safest place to be anywhere in the United States today. We had no less authority than the Secretary of Homeland Security say the border is as safe as it has ever been. The head of the Border Patrol said the border is as safe as it's ever been. By any rational measure, that is not where the problem exists.

This next slide, I think, in an image and in a picture, shows you where the problem exists today.

This slide here represents the Paso del Norte port of entry coming back into El Paso from Ciudad Juarez. There are 6 million crossings each year between El Paso and Juarez, and many of those coming north are U.S. citizens, Mexican citizens, and tourists visiting our region, who face these kinds of lines that can last upwards of 4 hours to enter the U.S. And for those of you who have not been to El Paso, you may not know that we, with Ciudad Juarez, are literally joined at the hip. Our street grids flow into each other. Our families live on both sides of the border. We may wake up in El Paso, do business in Juarez, and come back at the end of the day--or vice versa. We are truly a binational community. And when you choke commerce that supports tens of thousands jobs in my community, jobs throughout this State and this country, you're doing a disservice not just to us--because I don't expect the rest of Congress to care about the border, necessarily--not just to the State of Texas, but you are doing harm to the national economy.

So if we need to spend more money, if we need to put tighter focus on the border, this is where we need it. And those Border Patrol agents that we have are doing a remarkable job, and we stand fully behind them and want to make sure that we support them in their current objectives and that we can afford to pay them what they're owed, which by the way, under the sequester, we're not doing today.

Instead of taxing resources where we already have it covered, let's move those resources to our ports of entry and make sure that we have Customs and Border protection officers who can speed the flow of legitimate travel, trade, and commerce through our ports of entry. That will create jobs not just for my district and improve the quality of life not just in El Paso and along the border, but it will be a net benefit to this country. It will be an investment that pays back many, many times over.

And now to hear from somebody who also understands the U.S.-Mexico border quite well and who lives there, who has his family there, has grown up there, and has done a remarkable job representing the interests of the U.S. border, I'd like to yield to Filemon Vela from Brownsville, Texas.

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Mr. O'ROURKE. I want to thank my colleague from the Rio Grande Valley. Here he is meeting the anxiety, the paranoia, and the legislation based on emotion instead of facts with the cold, hard truth of our economic interdependence with Mexico. We ignore this at our peril and to the peril of millions of jobs in this country, hundreds of billions of dollars of economic opportunity and growth.

We welcome the focus and the attention at the U.S.-Mexico border, but we want those who are watching to see the truth. The truth is we are a positive, dynamic source of jobs and economic opportunity for this hemisphere for both Mexico and, most importantly for us in this body, here in the United States.

It is my feeling that the wall that exists today--the 600 miles of the 2,000 miles that join the United States and Mexico--the 600 miles of fencing today will soon be looked at by a majority of Americans in this country as something to be ashamed of, as folly that followed the paranoia and the anxiety that we have towards Mexico and the U.S.-Mexico border today.

When you think about the cost of this wall, the current wall cost us more than $2.4 billion to build and will cost us another $6.5 billion to maintain for just the next 20 years. Why would we then spend more than $16 million per mile for additional walls that will cost us billions of dollars to build over the next 5 or 10 years and then probably hundreds of millions, if not billions, to remove once we've realized our mistake, which I hope is not too far in the future.

If there is fear and anxiety and frustration with Mexico, I'd like to know where that's coming from, because it's not coming from the facts and the figures that we see in El Paso and that we see when we look at Mexico. Mexico is a growing, dynamic, vibrant economy. It has millions of people moving into the middle class. It's modernizing. It's breaking up its monopolies.

The country of Mexico has more free trade agreements with other countries than any other country on the planet. This is a country that wants to move ahead, that wants to do well for its citizens, that's investing back in itself and is providing opportunity so that people don't seek that opportunity in other countries like the United States. I think that helps explain why net migration from Mexico into the U.S. was at zero this past year.

Again, Mexico is not a threat. The U.S.-Mexico border should not be a source of anxiety. Mexico is a big part of our future, it's been a big part of our past, and it's a positive source for those things that we want to see happen in this country.

Someone who understands that quite well from representing her district along the U.S.-Mexico border in southern California--part of a State, by the way, that has seen more than a 30 percent drop in crime over the last 10 years despite, and maybe because of, the fact that it borders Mexico and has such large immigrant populations--I'm happy now to yield the floor to my colleague from California (Mrs. Davis).

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Mr. O'ROURKE. I want to thank my colleague from the Rio Grande Valley. Here he is meeting the anxiety, the paranoia, and the legislation based on emotion instead of facts with the cold, hard truth of our economic interdependence with Mexico. We ignore this at our peril and to the peril of millions of jobs in this country, hundreds of billions of dollars of economic opportunity and growth.

We welcome the focus and the attention at the U.S.-Mexico border, but we want those who are watching to see the truth. The truth is we are a positive, dynamic source of jobs and economic opportunity for this hemisphere for both Mexico and, most importantly for us in this body, here in the United States.

It is my feeling that the wall that exists today--the 600 miles of the 2,000 miles that join the United States and Mexico--the 600 miles of fencing today will soon be looked at by a majority of Americans in this country as something to be ashamed of, as folly that followed the paranoia and the anxiety that we have towards Mexico and the U.S.-Mexico border today.

When you think about the cost of this wall, the current wall cost us more than $2.4 billion to build and will cost us another $6.5 billion to maintain for just the next 20 years. Why would we then spend more than $16 million per mile for additional walls that will cost us billions of dollars to build over the next 5 or 10 years and then probably hundreds of millions, if not billions, to remove once we've realized our mistake, which I hope is not too far in the future.

If there is fear and anxiety and frustration with Mexico, I'd like to know where that's coming from, because it's not coming from the facts and the figures that we see in El Paso and that we see when we look at Mexico. Mexico is a growing, dynamic, vibrant economy. It has millions of people moving into the middle class. It's modernizing. It's breaking up its monopolies.

The country of Mexico has more free trade agreements with other countries than any other country on the planet. This is a country that wants to move ahead, that wants to do well for its citizens, that's investing back in itself and is providing opportunity so that people don't seek that opportunity in other countries like the United States. I think that helps explain why net migration from Mexico into the U.S. was at zero this past year.

Again, Mexico is not a threat. The U.S.-Mexico border should not be a source of anxiety. Mexico is a big part of our future, it's been a big part of our past, and it's a positive source for those things that we want to see happen in this country.

Someone who understands that quite well from representing her district along the U.S.-Mexico border in southern California--part of a State, by the way, that has seen more than a 30 percent drop in crime over the last 10 years despite, and maybe because of, the fact that it borders Mexico and has such large immigrant populations--I'm happy now to yield the floor to my colleague from California (Mrs. Davis).

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Mr. O'ROURKE. I thank my colleague from Arizona for talking about the moral dimension of this issue and for putting a human face on a problem and also on the opportunity, the other side of that problem, that being the opportunity we see along the U.S.-Mexico border.

To add a little bit to what he said, if you just look at the numbers in terms of northbound apprehensions along our southern border, 7 years ago the average agent apprehended 106 migrants for every agent patrolling the line. Last year, it was 17. In the El Paso sector, it was 3.5.

The Corker-Hoeven proposal to add more than 800 miles of additional border fencing to the tune of billions of dollars in order to double the size of the Border Patrol to the tune of more than $40 billion is a solution in search of a problem. Not only that--not only is it a waste of taxpayer money--it is also going to cause harm and death along the border. Last year, 477 people, human beings, died in trying to cross the southern border. It's the second highest number on record despite historically low migration. So, as we build these walls and fortify our border, we push people who are coming here for economic reasons further out into more treacherous, harmful and deadly terrain--and they are dying. More than 5,000 people have died in this manner over the last 15 years. Today, someone is eight times more likely to die crossing than one was 10 years ago.

Whether you look at this issue from a moral perspective, what we are doing in proposing the Corker-Hoeven amendment to comprehensive immigration reform is wrong. Whether you're looking at it from an economic perspective, where we have record job growth and creation related to our trade and commerce with Mexico, shutting that down and not applying resources to facilitating that trade is wrong. When you look at it in terms of good policy and being good stewards of taxpayer money at a time of sequester and at a time of deficits and record debt, this proposal is wrong. I do want to say that comprehensive immigration reform is a good thing, and we want to see it move forward, but let's not attach proposals like this one to it that will do far more harm than good and may imperil its chances of success in this House and for this country going forward.

Before I close, I do want to yield to my colleague from the Rio Grande Valley, Filemon Vela, who wants to make sure that we are focusing on problems where they truly exist, not where they have been created for political purposes.

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Mr. O'ROURKE. I thank my colleague from Texas.

Mr. Speaker, I hope that what we have discussed today has been able to illustrate the positive dynamic of the U.S.-Mexico border.

What we have offered historically to this country, whether it is Ellis Island for much of Latin America or the economic growth that we've seen, not just along the border and in border States but for this entire country, 6 million jobs depend on the commerce and trade that cross our ports of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border today.

I hope we have also been able to illustrate how harmful policies don't just hurt the U.S.-Mexico border but how they hurt the rest of this country in our ability to grow this economy and create more jobs.

Lastly, I hope that we've been able to show a positive way forward where we can have comprehensive immigration reform, where we can respond to concerns about a secure border but do so in a way that does not sacrifice our economy, our way of life, and our Constitution.

With that, Mr. Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.

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