MISSION — Amid a flurry of visits to the Rio Grande Valley this week by Washington lawmakers looking for facts about the area amid so much “misinformation” about the border region, Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., found a moment of serenity.
A group of six U.S. senators and congressmen huddled with McAllen Mayor Jim Darling upon arriving at Anzalduas Park overlooking the Rio Grande. Two days ago, Sen. Ted Cruz was here. The Congressional Border Caucus is also here and U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, along with his own delegation, is scheduled to have a day-long tour on Wednesday.
After talking with Darling and his colleagues for a few minutes, Tillis broke off, walked past a few Winter Texans talking among themselves, and stood alone by a fence as a breeze blew off the Rio Grande. He pulled out his phone, pointed it into the distance and snapped pictures, with Mexico just 100 yards in the distance.
Darling had just explained how a park in Mexico was just right there, which Tillis photographed, and several of the elected officials were amazed. The group was led by Texas Sen. John Cornyn, with Sens. Dean Heller, R-Nev., and Tillis, along with U.S. Reps. John Carter, R-Round Rock, Mike Conaway, R-Midland, and David Rouzer, R-N.C.
Cornyn has regularly brought colleagues from Washington to the Valley over the years to help them understand the border region. Cornyn also extended an invitation to President Donald Trump to visit the Valley.
“With President Trump, who’s said some pretty dramatic things about our relationship with Mexico, and trade and security,” Cornyn said on Sunday, “that it’s important for everybody to have their eyes wide open and be well informed, so that’s been my goal in having my colleagues come join me here.”
Besides a fundraiser Sunday night, the congressional group also met with many local mayors and families about their various communities over dinner. Yesterday, they spent time at a detention facility, the Pharr International Bridge and a Customs and Border Protection boat tour, just as Cruz did on Saturday afternoon. However, a difference between the two boat tours was that Cruz’s was on Texas Highway Patrol boats that feature guns attached to the boats. The boat tour yesterday was on smaller Border Patrol boats that do not have guns attached to them — agents on the boats have firearms.
The group will continue on to Laredo and Del Rio over the next couple days to take in the border. Tillis, who Cornyn said has showed interest in visiting the Valley, is a member of a Senate subcommittee on immigration with Cornyn. It was the first time here for both Tillis and Rouzer. There were plenty of questions and conversations throughout the day about border security.
“When you come and have the opportunity to tour like we have, the first thing that stands out to me is the complexity,” Rouzer said. “The nature of border security is far more complex than people give it credit for.”
“It really helps to see it first hand,” Rouzer added later. “It’s one thing to read about the issue, it’s certainly a very different opportunity when you get to see it. We just came from a stash house, for example, and a detention facility earlier. It really gives you a much broader and better feel for what is actually taking place on the ground.”
Darling was impressed with the delegation’s curiosity about the area, despite multiple members not being from Texas.
“It doesn’t hurt to have the (Senate Republican) Whip telling them about the region,” Darling said. “He gets it.”