A Border Town's Mayor On Immigration NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro talks with Rio Grande City Mayor Joel Villarreal about what this week's DACA and border security conversations mean for this city on the U.S.-Mexico border.
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A Border Town's Mayor On Immigration

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A Border Town's Mayor On Immigration

A Border Town's Mayor On Immigration

A Border Town's Mayor On Immigration

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NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro talks with Rio Grande City Mayor Joel Villarreal about what this week's DACA and border security conversations mean for this city on the U.S.-Mexico border.

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

In Washington, a comprehensive deal around immigration remains elusive. One of several sticking points - building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last year, I went down to the Rio Grande Valley, and I spoke with the mayor of one border town, Joel Villarreal of Rio Grande City, Texas.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

JOEL VILLARREAL: We do want a secure border, but the wall is not going to be effective.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We wanted to follow up with the mayor to see how the debate in Washington is being felt in his city. Welcome to the program.

VILLARREAL: Good morning.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Good morning.

VILLARREAL: Thank you for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you still feel a wall wouldn't be effective?

VILLARREAL: Absolutely. No. I mean, again - and I've said this before - a wall is definitely not going to be statistically significant. And the current existing wall, in fact, has had many issues. In reference to breaching the wall, I know some of the reports out had, existing walls have been breached thousands of times. And again, going back to the price tag that is going to cost the American taxpayer - it's just an incredible amount of money that's just going to be wasted.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'd like to talk about how this is impacting your area. Last year, you were predicting that the wall was coming - or at least part of it - and that you were going to see tussles over land, water use. What's happening there on the ground right now?

VILLARREAL: Well, so far, at this point, we had multiple conversations with the people charged with building the wall or at least looking at the path as far as where it's going to traverse through the different ranch land. And in having conversations, one of the things we looked at was, of course, having local input - for example, making sure we have access to the river. Many landowners need access to the river because they do have water rights. The Rio Grande river is our lifeblood, and we actually pump water from the river. So, of course, we're going to need access if there's a wall constructed there with our property.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: From your viewpoint as a mayor of a border city, where does border security rank among your city's other current needs?

VILLARREAL: Well when you're looking at - I believe it's 29 to 32 miles of proposed wall here in Stark County, which covers Rio Grande City, La Grulla, Roma. And the price tag for that was going to be somewhere from $700 to $800 million. Now, we are one of the poorest counties in the nation. And bringing in $800 million into our county for a wall that's not going to be effective - and what we could actually do with that money - improving roads, improving drainage, improving affordable housing, shelters, for example.

We've always had border security in this area. We have a virtual wall already. We have sensors and cameras and aerostats and drones. So border communities are in favor. And, again, I must stress that because, sometimes, it is portrayed that we're not in favor of sensible border security. But we are because it's beneficial for Mexico and the U.S. to have border security and to address some of these issues across both sides of the border.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Mayor Joel Villarreal, thank you so much for joining us.

VILLARREAL: Thank you.

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