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Wall Won't Dispel National Security Fears, McAllen Mayor Says After Trump Visit


We want to turn now to a city that's becoming a growing symbol of the partial government shutdown and the fight over a border wall. On Thursday, President Trump visited the border city of McAllen, Texas. And just yesterday, he tweeted that the situation there is worse than almost anyone could understand. We wanted to learn a bit more about the city and the situation there, so we called Jim Darling. He's the mayor of McAllen, Texas.

Mayor Darling, thank you for joining us.

JIM DARLING: You're welcome. Good afternoon.

MCCAMMON: So what did you make of President Trump's visit and his reaction?

DARLING: I've got to tell you, you know, when the president went through our city, it was pretty well half and half people saying build the wall and that are saying we don't want a wall. And it's much more complicated than that. The president said two things this week. He said it was a humanitarian crisis. And I think he was referring to the asylum seekers. And, of course, the crisis is whatever conditions are in the country making them want to leave and then the trip through Mexico. And I've always said since 2014, the crisis kind of ends for them when they get to the United States - at least, until they have a deportation hearing, and they have to get sent back. But, until that happens, the crisis is over for them.

The other thing that he said that we thought was important - it's not just a wall. It's border protection. It's more boots on the ground, more Border Patrol men, more technology, roads that they need, etc. And I think if you ask the average person, instead of saying, do you want a wall or not, but you want enhanced border protection along with some immigration reform, I can't imagine anybody would say no, we don't want that because that's really what's needed.

MCCAMMON: Recently, you spoke with our colleagues at Weekend Edition and mentioned that you didn't think a wall across the whole Mexican border is the right answer for added security. So what do you think is the answer?

DARLING: The way the river is situated in our area for hundreds of miles is it meanders all over the place. So the wall or the fence or whatever we're going to call it is not right on the river. So if the idea of a wall stopping the number of illegal aliens is what we're trying to accomplish, it doesn't work because those people are trying to get apprehended. And they - as soon as they cross the river, they're in the United States and are eligible. So they're north of the river, eligible for asylum south of the wall.

MCCAMMON: But you're saying that because of variations and in the physical terrain there in places like your city, McAllen, Texas, that border wall from sea to shining sea is just not practical, if I'm not - if I'm understanding you.

DARLING: That's correct. I think it - the barrier or the border wall makes sense where the Border Patrol thinks it makes sense, where you have local government input. Just throwing up walls to have walls would not meet the national security criteria, I think.

MCCAMMON: You mentioned division of people supporting the wall and opposing the wall when President Trump came to visit your area. I mean, as you talk to residents of your community, Mayor, what do you hear about this debate and about the asylum seekers that are coming through your region?

DARLING: Yeah. When you went down the street, there was clearly divided and was divided on one word called the wall. And I think that's a problem in Washington because nobody's accomplishing anything. We're not accomplishing immigration reform, which we need. We have 800,000 people waiting for hearings, etc. That number is not decreasing. And, on the other hand, you know, border security needs to be - there's no question - more efficient. And it should be more efficient from a national security standpoint. But because we're hung up on a word, and you're either for or against it, and people are getting elected on that basis, we're not accomplishing anything in Washington.

MCCAMMON: That's Jim Darling, mayor of McAllen, Texas near the U.S.-Mexico border.

Mayor Darling, thank you for speaking with us.

DARLING: You're welcome.


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