Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

A Texas Border Town Mayor's Take On Immigration, Trade And The Wall


One of President Trump's central campaign issues was building a wall on the border with Mexico and halting illegal immigration. In a moment, we're going to speak with a Dreamer, but first we want to talk about the border itself.

Pete Saenz is the mayor of Laredo, which sits on the Texas border with Mexico. He's an independent, but he voted for Trump and he greeted the now-president when he visited Laredo in 2015. He joins us in San Antonio this morning on his way back to Laredo from the inauguration. Thanks for being with us.

MAYOR PETE SAENZ: Good morning. How are you, Lulu?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Very well, thank you. Let's start with your views on the wall. Are they in line with the president's?

SAENZ: No, they're not. And yes, we've been very clear there at the border. Keep in mind, Laredo's the No. 1 land port for the Western Hemisphere. We do over $200 billion worth of trade there at a border. Just our port alone, you know, we're second in port value behind Los Angeles. As a customs district, we're third in the entire nation. So we command a lot on trade there.

And obviously, that is the result of a good-neighbor policy that we have with Mexico - and other countries as well but more so Mexico. So that relationship we've also (unintelligible). I've realized that the immigration issue and other border issues are important as well. But the economic development for our nation is also very important.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I've been to that border area. Obviously, there's a huge flow of people back and forth over it. He's talking, though, about illegal immigration. How would the wall, if indeed it is built, affect your town?

SAENZ: Well, it'll be a disaster, frankly. We're a - based on the numbers that I gave you, we're a transportation, trade, commerce, distribution center, warehousing - so we're a trade town. That's our backbone and our bread and butter frankly. So if the wall is there - and it's very offensive, frankly, to the people that - well, to Mexico primarily. And the people there in Laredo and the border area do business with Mexico.

I think we can - by way of a virtual wall - and we can into that if you wish - I think we can accomplish that. And besides, it's impractical. It's a river. We have creeks that actually feed into the river. We have livestock that actually water there in the river, wildlife. I mean, it's just not practical to build a wall, you know, the thick wall he says and the tall and deep wall. So I just don't see it, frankly, even if it were possible. I don't think it is.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We don't have very much longer left. But you just spoke about a virtual wall. You are a Trump supporter. You voted for him. What would be your message to President Trump about what's needed there?

SAENZ: Well, what we need is a virtual wall, frankly. You know, technology is so advanced nowadays. Obviously, people - more Border Patrol - we have plenty now. If he wants to send more, that's fine, too. Truly, what we need is to clean our river, to provide more visibility on both sides - on the Mexican side and on the U.S. side. There's all these invasive species. We have a plant species, which is called carrizo. It's a cane, and we also have a tree-like a shrub.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So your concerns are more environmental?

SAENZ: Accessing, yes - and also River Road. If you want to, you know, clean up where there's more accessibility and visibility, that would go a long way. And then with your vigilance through technology and Border Patrol, people - we work very closely there on the border with the Border Patrol people. So that, I think, would go a long, long way. And - in lieu of a wall.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. Pete Saenz, mayor of Laredo, Texas. Thanks so much.

SAENZ: Well, yes ma'am. Thank you for the opportunity. Take care. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.