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Cornyn Tours Ciudad Juárez in Low-Key Trip to Mexico

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn made his first-ever trip to Ciudad Juárez on Friday and said he felt safe in the border city. He said that was partially due to U.S. help in Mexico, and also said the U.S. bears some responsibility for the violence.

BorderPlex CEO Rolando Pablos,U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser.

EL PASO — U.S. Sen. John Cornyn on Friday said that the United States shares responsibility for the violence in Mexico because of drug demand here and that his GOP colleagues who favor sealing the border “obviously don’t know what they’re talking about.”

During a low-profile visit to El Paso and Ciudad Juárez, the Texas Republican added that, in his opinion, immigration reform is all but dead this year. His first-ever trip to Ciudad Juárez as a U.S. senator resulted from an invitation by Rolando Pablos, CEO of the Borderplex Alliance, an economic development company, and El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser. Cornyn also met with Juárez Mayor Enrique Escobar and toured an automotive factory in the border city.

Cornyn said he felt safe in Mexico and would let others know the situation is changing. “I’ll spread the word across Texas and in Washington, D.C., that conditions in Mexico and Juárez are much improved and that people should come see for themselves,” he said near a southbound lane at the Zaragoza International Bridge in east El Paso County.

Cornyn said sealing the border would drastically hinder the economic output of the region, which he said extended northward to the rest of the country. “It would be devastating in terms of the 6 million jobs that depend on binational trade,” he said. We do, however, need to make sure that people on both sides have the security and the safety they deserve.

Cornyn said he was proud of the successes of Ciudad Juárez’s law enforcement in what was, just a few years ago, one of the deadliest cities in the Americas. He toured the municipal police academy in Ciudad Juárez and said support and training provided by the U.S. should get some credit for the improvements in the border city.

Though he said that “as our Mexican friends point out, the problems wouldn’t be so bad in Mexico if there wasn’t such great demand in the United States,” he stopped well short of advocating for changes to U.S. gun laws. Many Mexican citizens and elected officials blame gun laws here and gun-running in the south as adding to the violence in Mexico.

“There is no question that some guns are bought by straw purchasers and are transported south into Mexico,” Cornyn said, but noted that he doesn’t believe the majority of weapons used there are smuggled from Texas, but are instead purchased from arms dealers around the world.

“Clearly, we have a responsibility to make sure that we respect not only our own laws but the laws of Mexico as well. And I think we’re doing a pretty good job of doing that,” he said. “But I am not in favor of restricting the rights of law-abiding Americans under the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution for any reason. But I think there are ways we can accommodate the concerns of our Mexican partners.”

On immigration, Cornyn has joined his Republican colleagues who favor a series of new laws rather than a single omnibus bill like the one passed by the U.S. Senate in June 2013 that then stalled in the U.S. House. He said he didn’t expect any movement on that front until after this year's elections.

“I think we’ll be able to make progress starting in January,” he said. “Frankly I don’t see much opportunity between now and then.”

When asked if he saw Cornyn’s trip stemming from a legitimate concern for the border area or instead a convenient election-year visit, Leeser called the visit a positive event. Cornyn will face Dallas-area businessman David Alameel, a Democrat, in November. “I think that it’s encouraging that we are all working together, absolutely important,” Leeser said.

Pablos said it was a historic visit given the state of affairs on the border.

"I think it sent a loud message that he believes Mexico is important and the people have come out of this war," Pablos said.

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