Border Security Stirs Voters In Texas
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
To a congressional race now that could play an important role in shaping future border security policy. It's in Texas and the district includes a wide stretch of the state's border with Mexico.
Here's the catch: With the Republican and Democratic candidates locked in a close contest, neither has been eager to actually talk about immigration.
David Martin Davies of Texas Public Radio reports from San Antonio.
(Soundbite of chanting)
DAVID MARTIN DAVIES: In Del Rio, Texas, it's clear it's election season. Across the street from the Val Verde County Courthouse, groups of local candidates and campaign workers wave signs at passing motorists.
For many voters, like Jimmy Estes(ph), it's not local issues most on his mind, it's national ones.
Mr. JIMMY ESTES: The government is too big, too large a deficit, no new taxes, personal freedoms back.
DAVIES: Estes, who's retired, didn't mention border security or immigration, even though he was standing about a mile from Mexico. He lives in the 23rd Congressional District of Texas, which covers 800 miles of U.S.-Mexico border and is two-thirds Latino.
Professor HENRY FLORES (Political Science, St. Mary's University): It's wide open spaces. There's parts of Congressional District 23 that have a population density of one person per square mile.
DAVIES: Henry Flores is a political scientist at San Antonio's St. Mary's University. He says this area has seen its share of drug running, illegal immigration, and a historic wave of violence right across the Rio Grande. But the candidates for Congress here aren't making a big deal about their positions on border security or immigration.
Prof. FLORES: That particular congressional district is racially polarized. And you throw immigration in, and you play it a certain way, and you'll either have a large number of Hispanics come out against a particular person saying certain things or you'll have white voters coming out, voting for or against a particular candidate because they take on immigration a certain way.
DAVIES: Both the Democratic incumbent, Ciro Rodriguez, and his Republican challenger, Francisco Quico Canseco, are keeping their positions on the controversial issue quiet. The candidates were asked about border security at a local PBS debate and there was no hiding their contrasting views.
Democrat Rodriguez supports the actions of local law enforcement and the Border Patrol. And he takes credit for increasing their federal funding.
Representative CIRO RODRIGUEZ (Democrat, Texas): We've doubled in the last decade the number of Border Patrol people up to 21,000 now. We just got an additional 600 million that I was directly engaged in passing.
DAVIES: Republican Canseco says if he gets elected, he'll work to give Border Patrol agents more authority to stop illegal border crossers.
Mr. FRANCISCO QUICO CANSECO (Republican Congressional Candidate, Texas): The rules of engagement are actually more observational and border stop than it is actually patrolling the border. And they are forbidden to do many common sense things - not just to defend themselves but to apprehend people that are actually coming across the border.
DAVIES: This race is tight. But whoever wins could become a leading voice to help set U.S. border security policy.
For NPR News, I'm David Martin Davies.
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