U.S. Border Town Tries to Soothe Offended Neighbor Alex Perrone, the mayor of Calexico, Calif., has been listening to the immigration debate in Washington. But he's been watching the actual process up close in his town, which sits on the American side of the U.S. border with Mexico.
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U.S. Border Town Tries to Soothe Offended Neighbor

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U.S. Border Town Tries to Soothe Offended Neighbor

U.S. Border Town Tries to Soothe Offended Neighbor

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On a Friday morning, it's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

Your views on the immigration debate may depend on where you are. And this morning, we'll hear how it looks from three spots along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Alex Perrone has been listening to the debate in Washington over immigration reform. He's also been watching what happens in the town that he serves as mayor. Find a map we've placed at npr.org and you can see Calexico, California, just on the American side of the border.

Mayor Perrone, welcome to the program.

Mayor ALEX PERRONE (Mayor, Calexico, California): Thank you very much for having me.

INSKEEP: I gather that even the name of your town stresses how close you are to Mexico.

Mayor PERRONE: Yes, it is. It shows the very strong ties we have. Calexico meaning California, exico for Mexico. The other border town on the Mexican side is called Mexicali, meaning that they're Mexico, and cali for California. You know, as I speak, I'm four blocks away from the border.

INSKEEP: You've got a border crossing there, and do you also have some kind of border fence?

Mayor PERRONE: Yes we do, sir, chain-link fence. And, for many years, people that couldn't cross, they would just stand right on the chain-link fence and speak to their family members.

INSKEEP: You said for many years that happened. What happens now?

Mayor PERRONE: Well, the border patrol gets a little sensitive, but people continue to do it, not as much.

INSKEEP: Well, now, all week long we've been hearing this debate in Washington, Mayor Perrone - and we're going to hear more in a moment, by the way. President Bush has said that he wants to send more National Guard troops to the border. There's talk of building a border fencing, hundreds of miles of new fencing. How would all of that affect you?

Mayor PERRONE: It - you know, it will affect because we have a very good relationship. We have relationship that is 100 years old with our border town. The mayor of Mexicali and myself will meet with our city council members every three to four months. And what we'll discuss is border-crossing issues, economic development; and we exchange also intelligence on drug traffickers or that kind of, you know, intelligence.

INSKEEP: You mentioned that there's the chain-link fence. If that became something more serious, like, say, the three-layered fence - the very serious, almost demilitarized zone that you see on the border with Tijuana, just a little bit to the west of you - how would that affect life in your town?

Mayor PERRONE: Well, you know what? It will affect us. You know it'll change the dynamic, it'll change that relationship, it'll change how our neighbors view us, and how we do business. And I believe, us as local leaders, what we're going to have to do is really go out to medias and tell them, hey, you know what? The president is proposing this, it's not us, locally. So we're going to have to do some damage control for our city.

INSKEEP: People could still cross legally, though, right?

Mayor PERRONE: Sure.

INSKEEP: But still, it's the message you're sending.

Mayor PERRONE: But the legal, I'm talking about the legal crossers. They also take offense, because the military leaders are put there because of Mexicans crossing. And that's the way they'll view it.

INSKEEP: It's obvious that the White House and other people are trying to balance a lot of competing interests and come up with a bill that can pass. Do you think that in all that debate that your community's concerns and point-of-view are being represented?

Mayor PERRONE: You know, I don't believe so. We haven't been contacted by anyone. I believe when you - when there's a problem on the border, you need to get input from your local elected officials, people that live day to day this -the problematic. But we'll see what happens here. But I don't feel - we're not being fairly represented.

INSKEEP: Well Mayor, Perrone, in Calexico, California, thanks very much.

Mayor PERRONE: Thank you very much.

INSKEEP: And that's just one of the perspectives we're finding at three spots along the border this morning.

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