WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela praised a think tank report on border security released Thursday for looking at the thorny issue from the vantage point of both the U.S. and Mexico — and for moving beyond using apprehensions of people crossing illegally as a measurement.
The Brownsville Democrat, co-chairman of the Congressional Border Caucus, said the report makes substantial progress because it looks at quality of life in border towns.
From the perspective of “someone who has lived on the border for pretty much his entire life,” federal policy has been detrimental to border communities, Vela said.
The report, published by the Wilson Center, a Washington think tank, touts a four-part Transborder Development Index, which will take a holistic look at the health of the U.S.-Mexico border in terms of economic competitiveness, sustainability, security and quality of life.
Measuring border security is no longer a simple matter of apprehensions, the 163-page report said. And the new index could better inform policies necessary to the border region’s economic and social recovery, the authors said.
The report “tries to look at it both from the perspective of the border communities themselves, and the challenges that they face and the opportunities they have, and also how we manage this from the perspective of our federal governments and our national political systems,” said Andrew Selee, senior adviser to the Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute, which helped produce the report.
The report was released just days after the Senate Judiciary Committee finalized markup on the current immigration bill now making its way to the Senate floor for debate. A controversial provision in the hotly debated bill is the border trigger, a measurement of border security that would have to be met before a pathway to citizenship could open up for undocumented immigrants already in the country. So far, there is little agreement on just what this measurement will be.
Vela said that in the past, a more open border allowed for a greater flow of trade and interaction between the U.S. and Mexico, but “since we started putting up border walls and things … all of a sudden we can’t do that anymore.”
Vela’s district includes parts of the Rio Grande Valley, where apprehensions numbered nearly 100,000 in 2012, according to the report — nearly double what it was in 2011. Unemployment is also rampant across the U.S. side of the border; Brownsville’s unemployment rate is a little more than 10 percent, compared to 7.6 percent nationally.
Though the report found that quality of life for the roughly 15 million people who live in counties and municipalities along the border has steadily been increasing since 2000, its authors wrote that a forward-thinking approach to assessing the border is crucial to the security, sustainability and economic competitiveness of both the U.S. and Mexico.
Vela said Thursday a new approach to the border is necessary to recover the once-flourishing region.
“At least in terms of how our border policy has affected the area where I live, [it] has been a disaster,” he said. “It’s been disastrous for us, in terms of the way we used to live.”
The Medill News Service is a content partner of The Texas Tribune and is providing reports from Washington, D.C.