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Hidalgo County Republicans Debate Border Wall Ahead Of Trump Visit

Mani Albrecht
Wikimedia Commons | http://bit.ly/2QBvUB9
A prototype of the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

In the early evening, members of the Hidalgo County Republican Party hosted a blood drive outside the office. Inside, people prepared for their regularly scheduled meeting. Neat rows of chairs were lined up in front of cut-out figures of President Trump and Abraham Lincoln.

Everyone chatted, mostly about politics. President Trump was scheduled to visit McAllen on Thursday — a visit to further his case for a border wall.

Hilda Garza De Shazo says she hopes Trump will meet with the local GOP chapter. In November, she lost her bid for a seat in the Texas House of Representatives.

“I did go online at the White House and sent him an email," De Shazo said. "However, my husband said that the president doesn’t read emails, but his staff does. But he does read tweets, so I also sent him a similar tweet.”

When asked what she wants to discuss with Trump, she replied, “I would love to discuss the border issue, of course — the security at the border.”

Fellow Republican Cristina Garfield stood outside of the GOP headquarters with her two daughters. She said she’s in favor of some form of barrier at the border.

“A solid wall may not work throughout the entire border, but we can have boots on the ground; we can have boats in the water; we can have surveillance; we can have technology," she said.

Garfield also backed the way Trump handled the federal shutdown.

“So do I think it’s right to have a government shutdown and be as stubborn as the Democrats are being because we want $5.8 billion to go to the wall?" she asked. "Yeah, because that’s nothing compared to what they’re spending on an annual basis.”

Credit Reynaldo Leanos Jr. / Texas Public Radio
A meeting of Hidalgo County Republicans on the eve of President Trump's visit.

But the president will also face some "friendly" skeptics among these Republicans, who are outnumbered by Democrats in the Rio Grande Valley. Cruz Quintana lives in San Juan, about 15 minutes from McAllen. When asked what he thought about Trump coming to the area, he said:

“A two-hour trip down to anywhere is not enough to actually see something or do something," he said. "I think it’s just good PR that he’s coming down.”

Like Republicans nationally, those in Hidalgo County are debating Trump's rhetoric. For Eva Arechiga, who was born and raised in McAllen and is in her 50s, and Marshall Rankin, who is in his late 20s, each had different expectations of what they wanted him to discuss.

“I’m hoping he has the courage to go meet with the president of Mexico because at one time we were asking Mexico to pay for the wall — in full, completely — but how about we meet half and half?" Arechiga said.

While Rankin said he doesn't believe Mexico is ever going to pay for the wall, Arechiga does.

"This is a problem in their country too," she said.

Arechiga said she believed Mexico would help "out of the kindness of their heart."

"They want to help us. And help each other and help halfway," she said.

As Rankin and Arechiga moved on from their debate, one thing they both agreed on is having empathy for the plight of the migrants.    

“We’ve got some land, and we leave a place for people to sleep," he said. "And I leave the tap open for water because I’m not a Border Patrol agent. I don’t have to say no. That’s not my job. I get to have a heart here. The immigration agents do not."

It’s a nuanced issue, he said. And he was OK with not all Republicans sharing his perspective.

"In the Republican Party, there are two camps on immigration: those that are angry and those that are not angry," he said. "Those that are not angry kind of take my position: Let's reform the law. But yeah, I get why you’re coming here.”

Reynaldo Leanos Jr. can be reached at reynaldo@tpr.org or on Twitter at @ReynaldoLeanos

Reynaldo Leaños Jr. can be reached at reynaldo@tpr.org and on Twitter at @ReynaldoLeanos