U.S. Rep. Will Hurd talks border issues in visit to El Paso area
Republican discussed politics over pizza in Horizon City; spoke about Secure Our Borders First Act, which is in a congressional committee
HORIZON CITY >> A bill pending in Congress would help border security by giving the Border Patrol and U.S. Customs and Border Protection more enforcement leeway and enhance the use of technology at border crossings, Texas Republican Congressman Will Hurd told a small group of El Paso area business and community leaders at a roundtable discussion Wednesday at a pizza restaurant in Horizon City.
"You can't build a fence from sea to shining sea. It doesn't make sense. It's the most expensive way to do this," Hurd said.
"There's all kinds of tools and technology we should be deploying in these various areas. And the bill calls for that kind of stuff. It's a strong bill."
Hurd, 37, who was elected in November to represent a 29-county congressional district stretching from Horizon City to his hometown of San Antonio, said he wants to be a "thought leader on border security."
The Secure Our Borders First Act, now in a congressional committee, would give the law enforcement "guys on the ground the flexibility to do their jobs and would take it out of the hands of the political leaders in Washington," Hurd said.
He spoke at the hour-long "Pizza and Politics" roundtable hosted by the El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce at the new Peter Piper Pizza restaurant next to the new Walmart Supercenter on Horizon Boulevard in the El Paso suburb.
Nearby TVs silently flashed a scrimmage between McDonald's All-American basketball teams and analysts discussing the upcoming NFL draft. The noise of children playing filtered through the restaurant.
Roundtable participants ate slices of pepperoni pizza and drank cups of soda as they listened and questioned Hurd.
The pending border security bill would increase federal funding by $1 billion to $10 billion over 10 years for more law enforcement staffing and enhanced technology on the international borders of the United States, Hurd said.
"Who are we trying to secure the border from? Narcotraficantes and terrorists, right? And we could be doing a better job with our national intelligence resources in tracking these guys," said Hurd, who spent nine years as a CIA agent. "Those guys are not hiding in caves in Monterrey (Mexico), I'll tell you that much."
The United States also needs to work more closely with Mexico officials on these issues, he said.
Bob Pena, 67, who's operated his family-owned maquiladora in Juárez for 45 years, told Hurd that too many Border Patrol agents are assigned to the U.S. side of border crossings to watch vehicles going into Mexico while bridge-wait times from Juárez to El Paso are often unbearable.
Hurd said the staffing ratios of Border Patrol and Customs agents at border crossings need to be studied to make sure entry stations are staffed properly to speed traffic between the U.S. and Mexico.
"I've been back across this border a number of times. I am going into Juárez tomorrow" as part of a border tour for two congressmen he invited here, Hurd said.
The CBP phone app, which gives bridge waiting times, is usually inaccurate, Hurd said.
"You look on the app and it says the wait time is 12 minutes and it takes 90 to 120 (minutes) to get here (Juárez to El Paso). That's a problem, too."
Oscar Venegas, owner of an El Paso construction company and chairman-elect of the El Paso Hispanic Chamber board of directors, told Hurd that the free Bridge of the Americas is creating traffic bottlenecks because many motorists want to cross there because it has no crossing fee.
Venegas said after the meeting that he'd like control of the bridge to be taken away from the International Boundary and Water Commission and given to the city of El Paso. A crossing fee may be needed at the free bridge to send some of the traffic to other international bridges, he said.
Venegas and others at the roundtable said it's good to have a Republican representing even a small slice of El Paso County to complement Democratic Congressman Beto O'Rourke, who represents almost all of the county.
Hurd said O'Rourke was one of the first people he met in Washington, D.C., after being elected, and the two work well together, he said.
"It's wild to think I've been in office for 12 weeks. It feels like a lot longer," Hurd said. "We've already done about 40 meet and greets and town halls.
"I try to come out here as much as I possibly can. I was born and raised in San Antonio. But for me, I represent 29 counties. I represent all the counties, not just the big ones, and not just the ones who voted for me."
Hurd grabbed a slice of pizza and a cup of soda after the meeting. Shook more hands, and prepared to become border tour guide for Congressmen French Hill of Arkansas and Ralph Abraham of Louisiana, both Republicans, who were arriving in El Paso on Wednesday evening.