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Texas Mayor Discusses Impact Of The Government Shutdown


How does the debate over border security look from the border? That debate hardly ended when President Trump gave up on Friday and agreed to end a partial government shutdown. The agreement with lawmakers allows three weeks to develop a border security plan that Republicans and Democrats can agree on. Though the shutdown was a political disaster for the president, his acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney told CBS he is ready to do it again.


MICK MULVANEY: Yeah. I think he actually is. Keep in mind, he's willing to do whatever it takes to secure the border. He does take this very seriously. This is a serious humanitarian and security crisis. And as president of the United States, he takes the security of the nation as his highest priority.

INSKEEP: That is one view from Washington, D.C. Dee Margo has a view from El Paso, Texas, which sits right along the U.S. border with Mexico. He is the Republican mayor of that city, and he's on the line.

Mayor, good morning.

DEE MARGO: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Would you just describe, for people who haven't been there, El Paso's relationship to the border, what it's like?

MARGO: Well, we're the largest U.S. city on the Mexican border. We say we're the nexus of three states - New Mexico, Chihuahua, Mexico, and Texas. Two countries and one region that comprises over 2.5 million people.

INSKEEP: And I guess if we look down on El Paso, there's a river. It's like El Paso and Juarez, Mexico, are one big city with a river running through it, and that river is the border. Right?

MARGO: You can't tell the difference between El Paso and Juarez when you stand at the top of one of our bank buildings and look south.

INSKEEP: Wow. Except, of course that, there is some fence along that river channel. You do have a lot of fencing in El Paso. Does it work?

MARGO: It works, yes. As a matter of fact, we're rated the safest city of over 400,000, 500,000 in the United States. But this particular fence - and I prefer that nomenclature...

INSKEEP: To a wall.

MARGO: Than to a wall. This fence was done under the presidency of George W. Bush. It was built in 2008. And it works to stop more of a criminal element than anything else. We had a number of auto thefts and things of that nature, and that's gone down to almost zero or nil. So it does function when and where it should function.

INSKEEP: Although, I wonder if it really addresses the problems that the president worries about when he talks about walls. I'm thinking about drugs, for example. The president talks about them a lot. We're told that most drug traffic comes through legal ports of entry. It's smuggled through. Is that your understanding of what happens in El Paso? If you have a drug problem, it mostly comes through a legal port of entry, it goes through your very safe city and ends up somewhere else in America?

MARGO: That's what we understand. Yes. That is correct. I mean, we're the second-largest land port with Mexico. We have 13,000 pedestrians, legal pedestrians, that cross north every day and 21 million-plus private passenger vehicles on an annual basis. We've been one community, one culture, for 400 years.

INSKEEP: So if it were up to you to identify the most serious problem along the United States border, would it be, wow, we need more walls?

MARGO: Well, we're a sovereign nation, and we need to control our borders. My frustration with the listening to all the pundits on the national media is that they keep talking about winners and losers over this shutdown, and I don't think there were any winners, whatsoever. But what I haven't heard - I'm a - I spent 35 years as a CEO. What I haven't heard is the Homeland Security say what they want for border security. I hear our political leaders, our elected leaders, make comments. But I haven't heard what they think we ought to have.

Texas, from a geographical standpoint, you can't put a fence from one end of Texas down from El Paso to Brownsville. It would geographically not work. So what do you do? There's technology. There are all - but I haven't heard a presentation under the auspices of Homeland Security to tell us exactly what they need.

INSKEEP: It sounds like the combination is going to be maybe some barriers in places, but probably also border security people, technology. It'd be a mix of things. Do you think also judges would be part of that, increasing the number of immigration judges so that people who cross and are stopped can be - their cases can be adjudicated?

MARGO: Absolutely. But the biggest problem we've got is the whole immigration system to begin with. I mean, it hasn't been addressed for 30 years. There's been a lack of intestinal fortitude on both sides of the aisle. And it's time for them to step up and do something about it. Anybody that comes into the border and claims credible issues related to security, harm - credible, you know, they're claiming credible harm, they're, under our laws, able to assume asylum. My biggest issue is some of that. I mean, if you do a shutdown, we've got over 13,000 - not counting the military, which wasn't involved in this, but - we've got over 13,000 federal civilian and other employees here. And that's pretty critical. Our food banks were having - were depleted. We have all kinds of issues.

But I'm also dealing with migrants coming north every day. Yesterday - I get that every day. Yesterday, we had 290. Saturday, we had 250. Friday, we had 420. And that's what you have coming forth. And they're here from 24 to 48 hours, typically. Could be as long as 96 hours. But we have an NGO and the Annunciation House, which does a great job, and processes them with 20 shelters and sends them on their way.

INSKEEP: And you had, also, these practical problems of dealing with that when some of the government people were unpaid or furloughed. In just a sentence, has our debate over this issue been almost irrelevant? I mean, given what you say is really important?

MARGO: Well, it's ancillary to - I mean, if it prompts and prods and gets people to step up and do what they ought to be doing, I mean, this whole issue for the last several weeks, all it does is say to me why we need term limits.

INSKEEP: Dee Margo, thanks so much. Really appreciate it.

MARGO: You betcha (ph).

INSKEEP: He's the Republican mayor of El Paso. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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