Cornyn Takes Wimpy Stance on Border

Senator addresses Border Trade Alliance via video at annual International Conference

Cornyn Takes Wimpy Stance on Border
Photo by Jana Birchum

Texas Sen. John Cornyn thinks a wall along our southern border is "irrational" – um, except where we need one.

So Cornyn said in a live video speech to the Border Trade Alliance at its annual International Conference last Monday at the Driskill Hotel. The BTA, as its name implies, promotes business interests along the U.S. border – interests that have been harmed since 9/11 and the anti-immigrant rhetoric that followed. While the BTA certainly must have its conservative elements, its take on issues such as border-fencing is at odds with the rabid Republican base. As Cornyn said, "I've always noted that the closer one gets to the border, the more people seem to be focused on trade issues and economic issues. The farther you get away from the border, it seems like more people tend to focus on security issues."

Cornyn, no doubt knowing he'll be pulling more votes from, say, the Dallas-Fort Worth area than the Rio Grande Valley, sticks by the border wall – at least a partial one – although he says it's only one aspect of stemming illegal immigration. "I believe that the primary solution with border security has to be more Border Patrol agents, because right now we only have about 10,000 Border Patrol agents. New York City, by way of comparison, has about 40,000 police officers. So we clearly need more human capital, more boots on the ground. And then, I believe that technology remains the primary answer beyond the human component. ... Now fencing, which I do believe is one component of the solution, has to be done in a cost-effective and an intelligent and reasonable sort of way. I have long said that I do not support a fence, or as some said, a wall, between the United States and Mexico. That's irrational and just doesn't make sense, because we know that people can come over fences or walls; they can go under them; they can go through them, given sufficient opportunity. And so that's why it's so important to have the three legs of the stool: more boots on the ground, more and better technology, and in some hard to control places, we need to have – Border Patrol needs to have some sort of responsible solution to the fencing issue." Cornyn also said he supports a management program to control Carrizo cane, an invasive, tall plant that hinders border agents; eradicating it, he said, could minimize the need for fencing.

While conference attendees seemed generally supportive of Cornyn, the fencing issue could cost him. In an Aug. 25 blog posting on the BTA website (www.thebta.org), regarding a Sep­tem­ber protest against the wall, BTA President Maria Luisa O'Connell wrote: "Policy makers living far away from Mexico do not understand the issues as well as those living on border cities. Their lives are not directly hindered by their own policy changes the way those of nearby citizens are. Hopeful­ly, the voices of all those who attend the protest will shed some light on the determination to maintain the unified culture between the two countries."

Indeed, Cornyn acknowledged at one point in his speech that fencing is "objectionable to many people along the border."

The BTA applauded his support for allowing Mexican long-haul trucks access to U.S. highways, however. The Senate recently passed an amendment that would stop a pilot program by the U.S. Department of Trans­port­a­tion allowing such access, and Cornyn derided those – specifically, the Teamsters – who supported the truck ban, saying their public-safety concerns actually masked protectionist impulses: "Unfortunately, this pilot program ... which did provide for high safety standards, was sunk by efforts of people who basically don't want to compete with Mexican long-haul trucking ... so they found a way to essentially frighten people."

Which, of course, is a strategy never used by Republicans.

In other Senate news, Cornyn may have gotten a glimpse last Tuesday of who his 2008 opponent will be. The Austin-based Demo­cra­cy for Texas organization held an online poll asking whom it should endorse for the Demo­cratic nomination; the sampling of 1,931 people, while unscientific, went clearly for Hous­ton state Rep. Rick Noriega (78%) over San Antonio attorney Mikal Watts (22%). Democracy for Texas made available to voters responses to a questionnaire sent to both candidates, which can be downloaded at www.democracyfortexas.org.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

John Cornyn, Senate, Rick Noriega, Mikal Watts, Border Trade Alliance

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