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Texas Mayor Acknowledges His City Is An Epicenter For Border Debate

Feb 11, 2019
Originally published on February 12, 2019 12:39 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Trump will once again take his pitch for a border wall to the city of El Paso, Texas. This time, those who disagree with the president will hold a rally of their own in El Paso led by Democrat and possible presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke. Joining us now, the mayor of El Paso, Dee Margo.

Mayor, thanks so much for being back on the program.

DEE MARGO: Sure. My pleasure.

MARTIN: So El Paso, your town, has become, like it or not, the epicenter for the border debate in a lot of ways. Is it warranted, do you think? I mean, how does El Paso illustrate the challenge at the border?

MARGO: Well, El Paso is the largest city on the U.S.-Mexico border. I mean, we like to say we're a region of three states - we're the intersection of three states - New Mexico, Texas and Chihuahua, Mexico, and two countries and one region of 2.5 million-plus people. We're pretty seamless here. I mean, you cannot stand at the top of one of our restaurants on top of one of our buildings and look south. And you cannot tell the difference between where El Paso ends and Juarez, Mexico, begins. And that's been that way for almost 400 years.

MARTIN: So in that way, it would provide an appropriate backdrop to talk about the challenges. But you have maintained that a wall like the president has been pushing for would not be effective there.

MARGO: Well, I haven't said that the - I would prefer a fence. We have a fence here from the 2006 Security Act (ph) under the Bush administration. I think they added about 10 miles. And the El Paso sector CBP, Customs and Border Protection, tells me there's about 78 miles total of fencing.

My point is that it's - that's just part and parcel of the whole process. We are a sovereign nation. We need to control our borders. And you know, there will be places for barriers. But it's not the total panacea. I think anybody - most experts would agree with that. Frankly, the geography of (clearing throat) - excuse me - of Texas doesn't allow it. You can't build a fence from El Paso to Brownsville. And most of the land in Texas is privately owned. But you need manpower. You need technology. You need all of the above.

MARTIN: Well, I want to ask you about some remarks the president made during his recent State of the Union. He was talking about crime rates in border cities and how he believes walls have made a difference. He called out your city specifically. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The border city of El Paso, Texas, used to have extremely high rates of violent crime, one of the highest in the entire country and considered one of our nation's most dangerous cities. Now - immediately upon its building - with a powerful barrier in place, El Paso is one of the safest cities in our country.

MARTIN: What did you make of that, Mayor?

MARGO: Well, I like the end of it. It's true. We are considered, according to the Uniform Crime statistics reported to the FBI, the safest city in the United States for a population greater than 500,000. But we were one of the safest cities before the fence went up. You can go back to 2005. We were ranked as one of the top safest cities. The fence, you know, it channels people. It is stopped a lot of crime and those kinds of things. We had a lot of - before it was built, we had a lot of auto thefts and things like that. That's diminished significantly. But our crime rate has been low. And as I say, we are the safest city in the nation.

MARTIN: Just going to say, the president mischaracterized that.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Mayor, it's Steve Inskeep. Good to talk with you again. As you may have heard from Tamara Keith, this debate has moved on to a question of the number of people that ICE detains. The question being - the Trump administration wants to detain a lot more people who are here illegally but are not convicted of violent crimes; Democrats would like less of that - from your perspective, do you want the United States to be detaining a lot more nonviolent offenders or people who have not been accused of violent crimes?

MARGO: Well, ICE is releasing between 300 and 400 a day in El Paso in families. The whole immigration system is broken. Something's just got to be done it. This is - we're dealing with symptoms, and the root cause is because the whole program is broken. We need to do something about it. We need to do something about DACA. We need to do something about those that are here. And we need to something about Central America that keeps sending people up. But it sounds like both sides of the aisle are trying to major in minors. They're into micromanaging, and that shouldn't be the case. Give it to CBP, ICE and, you know, Homeland Security, the task, and let them fulfill it.

MARTIN: El Paso Mayor Dee Margo, thanks again for your time this morning.

MARGO: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.