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The Reality At The Border: Laredo Asks, 'Where's The Emergency?'

Rio Grande, Laredo, TX.
David Martin Davies
Texas Public Radio
The U.S.-Mexico border at Laredo.

Laredo's community leaders are taking a stand in the political battle over President Trump's declaration of a national emergency at the southern border.

In the shadow of the international bridge between Laredo and Nuevo Laredo, Border Patrol agents prepared two air boats for another day of cruising the Rio Grande.

The agents were not in a rush, and the boats sat idling for more than an hour.

“The national emergencies, a made-up emergency by somebody that wants to fulfill a campaign promise. Is that really the way to go?" Mercurio Martinez III asked as he stood about three feet from the water. He is city councilman for District 3, which includes the riverfront.

He said the river current moves swiftly and so no wall is necessary.

“That's your wall," he said. "We have one. It's called the river. Look how wide it is. Somebody has to think twice to cross this river.”

Martinez stood in sight of the outlet mall catering to shoppers from Mexico. Cargo moved back and forth on the nearby International Bridges 1 and 2 and the rail bridge. Laredo is the largest inland port in the nation. Trade defines this city of nearly three hundred thousand people.

“And so commerce and business and banking are big in Laredo.”

Credit David Martin Davies / Texas Public Radio
Texas Public Radio
Border Patrol boats

Carlos Flores is a Laredo lawyer and community activist. He said Laredo doesn’t have the agricultural backbone of the Rio Grande Valley so it built its strengths on moving goods and providing services.

“So Laredo is on the one hand, very conservative, very pro business, and on the other hand, probably the most Mexican city in this country.”

Flores pointed out that Laredo is also extremely proud of its American roots, which is best expressed with its annual weeklong celebration of George Washington’s birthday. It’s the nation's largest birthday party for the first president, and it iincludes a parade, colonial cos-play and a ritual on the international bridge which last month included Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

During her visit, the San Francisco Democrat made clear her views about the presidential border emergency.

“Since the president decided that he imagined or whatever. The mythology of a crisis at the border we say 'come see the reality of what happens here – trade – commerce and the rest.' So we do not see this as a declaration of an emergency.”

In the weeks since Pelosi's Laredo visit, the U.S. House and the Senate passed a measure seeking to overturn Trump border emergency. On Friday Trump responded.

“It is definitely a national emergency. Rarely have we had such a national emergency. Therefore, to defend the safety and security of all Americans, I will be signing a formal veto.”

This is the first veto in the Trump administration. And Trump said the reality at the border demanded it.

“Congress’s vote to deny the crisis on the southern border is a vote against reality – it’s against reality. It is a tremendous national emergency. It is a tremendous crisis.”

Credit David Martin Davies / Texas Public Radio
Texas Public Radio
Bridges between the U.S. and Mexico are crucial to Laredo's trade economics.

Laredo resident Sergio Mora produces the podcast "Frontera Radio." He acknowledge that there are illegal crossings but that is not new. It’s been happening since there was a border, he says. What’s new is the politicization of the border.

“We believe in strong borders," he said. "But, I mean, when Trump came around and he started scapegoating illegal immigrants and he started blowing everything out of proportion – us who have lived here and worked here all our lives know that it is a blatant exaggeration, and it was the last straw when he declared a national emergency.”

On Thursday, Earthjustice filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Rio Grande International Study Center, based in Laredo, that challenged the presidential declaration.

The suit argued that the new sections of Trump’s border wall are unnecessary and will have a dire impact on the communities and the environment along the border.

David Martin Davies can be reached at DMDavies@TPR.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi.

David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi