The U.S. must strike the "right balance" between
public safety and cross-border commerce at ports of entry along the U.S.-Mexico
border, Sen. John Cornyn said Monday after touring the international bridge
Speaking as a Senate committee prepared to review a comprehensive immigration bill, Cornyn said metrics included in the bill will help measure the Department of Homeland Security's success in securing the border. But he added that outdated and overcrowded international bridges along the border can't take a backseat to efforts to meet the metrics.
"Border security can't just be about sealing the border," Cornyn said, referencing the trade and commerce that creates as many as 6 million jobs in the U.S.
"We need to find the right balance between public safety and legitimate trade and commerce," Cornyn said. "What we can do, working together, is tell Washington that if you're going to invest money along the border, we need to have some gates -- the ports of entry -- that allow legitimate trade and commerce."
Cornyn took a two-day trip through South Texas to talk border security and trade with local officials on the eve of the committee's work on the immigration bill. Cornyn, who toured the Rio Grande City bridge on Monday, said he'll discuss information gathered from the trip as senators begin work on the bill's "framework" unveiled last month by the bipartisan Gang of Eight senators.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is slated to begin considering amendments to the bill Thursday, the first step for the legislation introduced last month by a group of four Republican and four Democratic senators. An element likely to draw close scrutiny is the border security triggers that the Department of Homeland Security must meet before a path to citizenship for immigrants is opened.
By requiring metrics in the bill, the Department of Homeland Security will have to present a detailed plan for security and ask for adequate resources to meet it, Cornyn said. But he also touted legislation he previously filed that would encourage public-private partnerships to boost staffing and make infrastructure improvements at U.S. ports of entry.
Cornyn said the legislation would allow private and public entities along the border to help move legitimate trade through the ports, allowing the federal government to focus its limited resources on high-risk areas. Legislation proposed in Austin would train workers employed by state or local governments on inspecting produce for disease or insects, limiting the time it spends at the bridges waiting for clearance.
Sam Vale, the owner of the Rio Grande City bridge, said public-private partnerships are a way for local governments and private entities to aid the federal government during budget cutbacks.
"We want to see the people who come in the country and have legal business here be properly identified and expedited" by local officials, Vale said. "Let the (federal) professionals deal with people we don't know who they are."
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