Does it seem like suddenly the border has become a popular visiting place for lawmakers and federal officials? On January 8, President Joe Biden visited El Paso, Texas, to see first-hand the issues surrounding the surge of migrants from Central and Latin America. He was met at the El Paso Airport by Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who handed the President a letter criticizing his border efforts. The next day, a bipartisan group of lawmakers, led by Senator John Cornyn, R.-Texas, and Krysten Sinema, I-Arizona, visited El Paso, Texas, and Yuma, Arizona, where they hoped to see the “many challenges of the southwest border.”
On February 16, Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-California, led a group of freshman House members to a visit of Cochise County, a border county in Arizona. He spoke out against illegal drugs and crossings at the border and promised change. At the same time, Representative Raul Grijalva, D-Arizona, was in the same region to focus on investments in Customs and Border Protection facilities. On February 17, House Minority Leader Hakim Jeffries, D-New York, traveled to the border to visit Laredo, Texas. Along with Representative Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, who represents the Laredo region, Jeffries visited with local leaders to solicit input on a variety of border-related topics. Later in the visit, Jeffries lauded the Biden Administration’s newly enacted policies, which have eased some of the migration pressures from countries like Cuba, Haiti, and Venezuela. “But we do need a congressional solution,” stated Jeffries.
On February 14, I got to personally participate in a border visit by a high-ranking official when U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Ken Salazar visited Santa Teresa, New Mexico, and El Paso, Texas. I have been keenly interested in the Ambassador’s career as a U.S. Senator from Colorado, the Secretary of the Interior, and now ambassador to one of the U.S.’s most important allies. His family is part of the Hispanics who have lived and farmed for hundreds of years in the San Luis Valley, which skirts southern Colorado and northern New Mexico. Part of my family is also from this region. Although raised in southern Colorado, he also referred to himself as “a New Mexican,” due to the fact that his mother was raised approximately 60 miles north of Albuquerque. The Ambassador was hosted in Santa Teresa by Congressman Gabe Vazquez, D-New Mexico.
As with most ambassadors I have met, I found Ambassador Salazar to be suave charismatic. Dressed in cowboy boots, jeans, a winter jacket, and a stylish Indiana Jones-type hat, he looked every bit the style of ranchers I grew up with in northern New Mexico. The visit took place on a chilly, breezy day at the Santa Teresa Port of Entry, where Salazar was provided a tour of port facilities, as well as the Santa Teresa Cattle Crossing. Officially, the visit by both officials was to tout U.S.-Mexico trade. Congressman Vazquez emphasized the need for more federal government investment and personnel in the Santa Teresa Port of Entry in order to maintain its tremendous growth.
Ambassador Salazar also talked about the importance of U.S-Mexico trade for both nations, and he also called for more federal government investment on the southern border. However, at the end of his speech, he was open to questions from the press, representing media in both the U.S. and Mexico. Salazar was asked about how to stop illegal drugs and migration crossing into the U.S. from Mexico. He stated that the Biden Administration has established clear strategies with its latest policies, and that more members of Congress would be visiting Mexico to gather information.
To me, the comments made by Salazar on immigration were spot-on: “Many borders don’t work. The U.S.-Mexico border has to work. As we see an unprecedented flow of migration we have to do three things. First, we have to create hope in countries like Guatemala. Second, we need to ensure the borders between all those countries work. Third, we have to provide a legal pathway so that people who are looking for jobs can find jobs that Mexico and the U.S. have available.” He also emphasized that the Biden Administration has a clear policy aimed at curbing illegal drugs such as fentanyl, by curbing supply and demand. After the Santa Teresa visit, Ambassador Salazar attended a friendship event at the Chamizal Park, which flows into both El Paso and Juarez.
Even if Americans, particularly those living at the southern border are skeptical about the visits being more political and flashy, I believe that they are helpful. Many lawmakers and officials are making negative comments about the border without understanding what is going on there. Many tend to lead their border comments with crime, illegal drugs, and undocumented border crossers. They omit the tremendous border industrial base that generates billions of dollars of trade for the U.S. every year. They tend to overlook or not understand the strong familial, friendly, and cultural ties that exist on both sides of the border. They also seem to not understand how many billions of dollars Mexican shoppers, tourists, and visitors spend in border towns such as El Paso. Visits such as the ones that are occurring can be very educational, and go a long way towards developing bipartisan solutions to border issues.