Senator Cornyn Addresses the Annual Border Issues Conference
Today, I released the following keynote speech as prepared for delivery for the 15th Annual Border Issues Conference luncheon hosted by the United States-Mexico Chamber of Commerce, in conjunction with Congressman Silvestre Reyes (D-TX) and the Congressional Border Caucus:
Thank you, Al Zapanta.You continue to lead the Chamber with a clear vision that our two nations have even more potential to create jobs and economic opportunity. It’s good to be here with Congressman Reyes, Congressman McCaul, Secretary Napolitano, Ambassador Sarukhan, and all the civic and business leaders who have come to Washington for this conference.
Texans understand the importance of our economic partnership with Mexico. Texas surpassed California 10 years ago as America’s largest exporter and 35 percent of Texas exports go to Mexico. The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas projects that my state will add up to 374,000 jobs this year and see our state unemployment rate drop to 7 percent.
One of the biggest factors in that growth will be exports. Texans want to expand our trade with Mexico, but they are becoming increasingly concerned with the impact of cartel-related violence on their businesses.
In both Mexico and the United States, cartel-related violence is making national headlines. In January, two American missionaries were attacked by bandits near Reynosa. Their truck was riddled with bullets as they tried to make it back across the Pharr International Bridge, but unfortunately one of them did not make it back to McAllen alive.
In February, two Texas teenagers from El Paso were killed at a used car dealership across the border in Juarez. Since December 2006, about 230 Americans have been murdered in Mexico—according to the State Department—and more than 35,000 Mexicans have lost their lives as well.
As horrific as the violence is, sometimes the media misses a few of the other major stories along our southwest border. One of those stories involves illegal immigrants from countries very far from Mexico. According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, more than 59,000 illegal immigrants were apprehended in the first 9 months of 2010 who were listed as “other than mexican.” Those include 663 individuals from “special interest countries”—such as Afghanistan, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen, as well as the four nations currently on the list of “state sponsors of terrorism,” which are Cuba, Iran, Syria, and Sudan.
Another story that’s deeply disturbing relates to public corruption. For years, drug cartels have tried to compromise elected officials and law enforcement in Mexico, but now that activity is moving north. Last week, federal officials indicted the mayor and police chief of Columbus, New Mexico. They and several other individuals are accused of weapons trafficking on behalf of the cartels, but perhaps the biggest story many people are missing is the impact of cartel-related violence on job creation and economic opportunity.
One of the biggest success stories along our southwest border has been manufacturing. Hundreds of maquiladoras have created more than a million jobs and created investment opportunities on both sides of the border, but last year, border factory owners in the McAllen/Reynosa areas saw a steep decline in business. 80 percent said they were seeing reduced productivity, shift adjustments, limited visits by customers, and vendors. 20 percent of them had cancelled projects or put them on hold indefinitely.
The violence has also had some effect on the way business leaders conduct their daily affairs. One owner of a factory in Juarez says that he no longer takes the same route to work every day. It’s just too dangerous. And he doesn’t share his schedule with anyone, including those on his management team.
The retail sector is also suffering in many border communities. In Brownsville, Texas, for example, a family business that has been a fixture in the community for more than 100 years announced this week that it was closing its doors. Robert Lee Lackner founded R.L. Lackner Jewelers back in 1907. He came to the Rio Grande Valley to be near the railroads because he knew that railroad conductors and station managers needed the finest watches and timepieces in the business.
Today, his granddaughter and two of his great-granddaughters run the business and many of their best clients in recent years have been Mexican citizens who cross into this country to shop, but these days many Mexicans don’t make the trip anymore—it’s just too risky. And so Carolyn Lackner Baird and her family are going out of business.
So whether you focus on manufacturing or retail or whether you get your information from the news media or from talking to business owners like many of you the story is the same. Cartel-related border violence is bad for Mexico, bad for the United States, and bad for business.
Unfortunately, the Obama Administration has no clear strategy to improve the border business climate—or to improve security and promote prosperity for both the Mexican and American people.
I certainly respect Secretary Napolitano, but today she defended the Administration’s record the same way she did when she testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week. She used lots of statistics. She focused mostly on inputs rather than outcomes—in other words, the focus is on what Washington is spending and doing, rather than whether people in our border communities are seeing results. And despite a commitment to do more, there’s no real plan from President Obama or the Administration to meet the goal of a secure border.
Don’t take my word for it. According to a report last month from the Government Accountability Office, more than 1,100 miles of our southwest border are not under operational control as defined by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Nearly two-thirds of those miles are at the monitored level, the rest are low-level monitored. The agency admits that these two levels are "not acceptable" for border security and I agree.
Last week General Burgess, who leads the Defense Intelligence Agency, had this to say about our porous border ‘...it is a national security concern, because if you can move drugs, if you can move people, you can move other things that are of concern to us as a nation.’ If you want to judge the Administration’s performance, listen to federal agents and officers on the ground.
According to a recent L.A. Times article, it’s becoming much tougher to recruit agents to deploy to Mexico to work with the Mexican government because there are shortfalls in staffing, Washington sends agents with limited fluency in Spanish, and folks are worried that U.S. federal agents are now becoming targets especially after ICE agent Jamie Zapata was killed near Mexico City last month.
It’s clear that President Obama really needs to take a more active interest in border security and give federal agencies and our Mexican partners a much clearer idea on what he believes the right strategy is for our border. What would a robust border security strategy look like? Here are a few suggestions.
First, a good strategy should have an interagency approach. This is not a new idea. There are already dozens of taskforces along the southwest border – and many of them are doing great work, but we are not yet coordinating our intelligence and interdiction operations as well as we could.
A good model is the Joint Interagency Task Force-South, which operates out of Key West. This command is responsible for coordinating drug interdiction efforts in the Caribbean and South America and many federal agencies as well as representatives of sovereign nations including Mexico are part of it.
This model has already drawn the attention of the Department of Homeland Security. Last year they looked at ways to improve Border Security during their Bottom Up Review last year. They said this option should be considered and I couldn’t agree more.
Second, a good strategy should be resourced appropriately. Secretary Napolitano says that the Obama Administration has devoted more resources to border security and in some ways, she’s right, but we are still not doing enough to support local law enforcement, develop better intelligence, and target organized crime networks.
That’s why several of us in Congress have proposed legislation that would do more. For example, last year I introduced legislation that would have funded additional personnel in several federal agencies, additional equipment that can help protect our border including helicopters and Predator drones, improvements for taskforces and fusion centers that enhance interagency cooperation, and assistance to state and local law enforcement officers who operate within 100 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border.
And because commerce is so important, I introduced a bill that would have greatly improved our ports of entry by providing $6 billion in funding for port construction, infrastructure improvements, and staffing.
Third, a good strategy should reflect input from stakeholders like all of you. Lots of groups are interested in border security and immigration reform, and I believe their views matter. So whenever someone meets with me or contacts my office, we give them a list of questions that any successful border security or credible immigration reform bill will have to answer.
For example, are physical barriers an effective component of border security? Or are new technologies not currently in use by DHS part of the solution? What’s the right balance between employment-based and family-based visas? What should we do with criminal aliens whose home countries refuse to take them back? More than a dozen organizations are helping us work through the answers to these questions, and I’d welcome the participation of the U.S. Mexico Chamber.
There’s no question that we’ve got our work cut out for us. Cartel violence is exposing many of the gaps and holes in our nation’s border security. America’s broken immigration system isn’t serving the people who want to follow the law especially those who want to engage in legitimate trade and investment between our two countries. And neither the Mexican economy nor the U.S. economy is creating enough jobs for the people who want them, but I believe each of those problems is solvable.
I envision a border in which commerce flows safely and swiftly across our border, and continues to grow, people are crossing legally, but not illegally and the cartels have been utterly defeated, and no longer threaten our communities and our children. I hope we can continue to discuss how to move our two nations closer to those goals. And now I’d be happy to take a few questions.