MISSION — Hours before the president talked about “bad people with bad ideas” entering the country at a rally in Florida, a United States senator strapped on a vest, walked through the thick Rio Grande Valley brush as Friday night turned to Saturday and found what he, President Donald Trump and many discuss in Washington D.C. The senator linked the findings to organized violent crime.
“There were more than one that were large, young men with a significant percentage of tattoos that might suggest gang affiliation,” U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said Saturday afternoon, recounting an overnight ride along with Border Patrol. “I don’t know that, but those were the individuals that happened to be stopped on the patrol I was participating in.”
All of the people Cruz and the patrol encountered were apprehended, he said. But he did not encounter any families, Cruz added, which make up the majority of illegal apprehensions.
The morning after the overnight patrol, Cruz was set to meet with local mayors about their communities at the Center for Education and Economic Development. But a group of about 50 protesters chanted and held up signs across the street.
Some of the signs read, “Our home is not a war zone,” “Your father was a refugee,” and “Answer your phone.”
Cruz crossed the street to talk with them about their concerns, which included the border wall, investigating Trump’s relationship with Russia and why Cruz’s offices don’t answer the phones.
“What we want, Mr. Cruz, is to be able to reach you,” one woman said. “So that you hear us and not just the people that are lining your pocketbook, to be frank. We want you to be able to answer your phone, to be available, to come here, to have a town hall, so that we have the opportunity in a civil format so you can address the concerns of all Texans. You represent all of us. You are the voice for all of us in Washington. And we need you to hear all of us. And the majority of the people, especially the people in the Rio Grande Valley and along the border, aren’t the people that are voting for you. And even though we didn’t vote for you, we need you to hear us. So answer your phone, let us be heard.”
Cruz agreed that his job is to represent all Texans, no matter who they voted for.
“I can tell you we are answering thousands upon thousands of phone calls,” Cruz said. “We do have a limited budget so I’ve got staff members that are literally sitting on the phones answering one after the other after the other. Look, as I understand it, there was a memo put out by a Democratic Congressman about how to shut down the ability to answer phones, which is essentially to flood it with such a quantity —”
“Because we care!” another woman said. “We’re calling because we care!”
Cruz met with more than 10 mayors from across the Valley after his interactions with protestors, who he later thanked for exercising their first amendment right. Whether he takes their concerns to Washington is the next question. The protestors left Cruz with “hey hey, ho ho, Ted Cruz has got to go!” as he left for his meeting with the mayors. Several mayors said the meeting was productive and that Cruz did much more listening than talking.
The next meeting was with about 30 business leaders, agricultural workers, people involved with trade and general stakeholders in the region. Many in the meeting said Cruz acknowledged most of what people’s concerns were and that Cruz was working on helping. Pharr City Manager Juan Guerra said there was conversation about border security, trade, tax reform, jobs and repealing Obamacare, among other things.
Others said what piqued Cruz’s interest was banking regulations and how those regulations especially affect those in the Valley, with people from Mexico often being involved, or trying to be involved, in American banking.
McAllen Mayor Jim Darling sat in both meetings, and often tries to meet with officials whenever they visit the area. He said Saturday’s gatherings were more productive than most. He said there was a lot of give and take, which others agreed with.
Cruz finished his day with a Rio Grande tour on the Texas Highway Patrol gunboats. He said it was “excellent.”
This visit marks the first of many upcoming over the next four days, which will include a scheduled Sunday fundraiser for U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who will be accompanied by U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, R-NC, according to an invitation and multiple sources. They are also scheduled to tour the area, according to sources.
Members of the Congressional Border Caucus are scheduled to be here early in the week, followed by a scheduled visit by U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. According to sources, Ryan will be here for a tour of the border, accompanied by U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, and possibly other top congressional republicans.
U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, is also scheduled to be here Wednesday for a 5:30 p.m. meet and greet at Koko’s off Expressway 83.