Texas Rep. Michael McCaul On Proposed Border Wall NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro talks to Texas Rep. Michael McCaul about what residents in the Rio Grande Valley think about immigration reform, trade with Mexico, and the idea of a wall.

Texas Rep. Michael McCaul On Proposed Border Wall

Texas Rep. Michael McCaul On Proposed Border Wall

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NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro talks to Texas Rep. Michael McCaul about what residents in the Rio Grande Valley think about immigration reform, trade with Mexico, and the idea of a wall.


When I talked to people on the other side of the border in Texas, not too many said they wanted a wall. That was true even of Trump supporters, like businessmen Othal Brand.

OTHAL BRAND: We understand his concept. We understand he wants a secure border. That's what we like for those of us that live here. But I just don't think he understands the wall is not the answer. It is a part of the solution, but it is not the answer.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So we reached out to Texas Congressman Michael McCaul to ask him about what we heard from the folks in his state. McCaul chairs the House Committee on Homeland Security, and he recently accompanied House Speaker Paul Ryan on a tour of the Rio Grande Valley. I started by asking McCaul about President Trump's wall.

MICHAEL MCCAUL: I think you need a multi-layered defense approach. I think where physical barriers make sense, like fencing - and that's been done in a lot of places down there - then we should absolutely do that. But we also need to look at the technology piece to this. There's infrastructure, technology and personnel. What we need down there, Lulu, is a hundred percent visibility to see the border that we cannot see right now to know where the threats are coming in and then know how to stop that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So no wall everywhere?

MCCAUL: Well, this is a big semantical (ph) point. I think that you can provide a physical...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The president's making that point over and over again, sir. The president's going up and speaking to Congress, and he's got a lot of applause for that line. So we're trying to understand and the people there are trying to understand what this looks like. How do you see this?

MCCAUL: The wall represents a physical barrier that's integrated by technology. How exactly that's going to look, that is really the source of debate as I speak. Now, we had many meetings with the department. I've had many meetings with the appropriators about, you know, what makes sense down there. You have to understand, too, that a 30-foot concrete wall is a very expensive proposition. And there are a lot of other things we can be doing technologywise to make it a smart border that's more effective and more cost efficient.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I was going to talk a little bit about the financing. The Trump administration is considering cuts in their budget proposal to the Coast Guard and the TSA. These are agencies that are important to securing our borders in other places. People who live and work on the border that I spoke to say that doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

MCCAUL: Right. I'm as well concerned about those cuts because here's the fact of the matter. We know that when you when you close off one land border like San Diego, then they move to Tucson. When you close off Tucson, then they move to the Rio Grande Valley. That's just a fact. So as we secure the land border, they're going to maritime. And when that happens, we need a Coast Guard that can respond to that evolving threat.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'd like to move on and talk about something else. President Trump often frames his border stance as being good for the American economy. You represent the great state of Texas. And what we heard from business owners down near McAllen is that Mr. Trump's rhetoric, in particular, has been damaging to the local economy. Here is Jesus Gonzalez. He runs a high-end furniture store that has a lot of Mexican clients who aren't showing up any more.

JESUS GONZALEZ: At the beginning, I thought it was just temporary. But it's been pretty much the last three months that they've been boycotting. So they are serious.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And the mayor of McAllen told us that tax revenue is down significantly in his area. How is this good for your state?

MCCAUL: Well - and I will say, I chair the U.S.-Mexico Interparliamentary Group. We'll be meeting in early June in Mexico City. Mexico is our largest trading partner in Texas. And so I believe the rhetoric - we have to be careful with this rhetoric. And we also need to make sure that our trade policies don't hurt our local economies.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Have you told the president that you'd like him to tone down the rhetoric?

MCCAUL: Oh, I think (laughter) - I think it's clear that we can't always control what comes out of the White House. And so I will tell you in private conversations that we view Mexico as a trading partner. I do think there are threats that the speaker got briefed on when we were down there, sort of, the dark side of the border on the other side - the drug cartels; the human, drug trafficking; the potential terrorists that can come in, which is why this security piece is so important. I think the threat justifies the security. But I think we need to do it right and have the right rhetoric behind it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'd like to touch on the issue of immigration as well. We've seen a sharp decrease in the numbers of people coming into the country illegally, some 40 percent down over the past month. One thing is deterrents. But are there any plans for immigration reform to go along with this? Let's listen to Sam Vale. He owns an international bridge near Rio Grande City in Texas.

SAM VALE: I have relatives in the northern part of Texas that say, I don't know what we would do if we didn't have the Mexican workforce coming up here. We can't get anybody to go do our - the work that we need done on our farms and ranches today.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Doesn't this speak, sir, to a reality that these people are coming over and getting jobs. They're needed here, aren't they?

MCCAUL: Well, there is an argument, the seasonal workers, particularly in the ag communities, rely on this. Is that something Congress will be looking at? Yeah, of course. I think the conversation will happen. I think, from what I hear, most people want the security piece done first. And so we need to secure the border. We need to deport criminal aliens, and then we need to have the conversation about what to do with the remaining population.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Congressman Michael McCaul, thank you so much for speaking with us.

MCCAUL: I appreciate you having me. Thank you.


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