The federal government created the immigrant mess, and the federal government should clean it up. That was the message sent loud and clear Thursday by Del Rio Mayor Bruno “Ralphy” Lozano, City Councilman Jim De Reus, Val Verde County Judge Lewis G. Owens Jr., County Commissioner Pct. 3 Beau Nettleton and others during a joint meeting of three local governing bodies at the Del Rio Civic Center.
The San Felipe Del Rio Consolidated Independent School District Board of Trustees, Val Verde County Commissioners Court and the Del Rio City Council met in special session to discuss the problems created by the influx of large numbers of immigrants.
None of the three bodies took formal votes to spend city, county or school district money on the situation.
The meeting, which lasted just over two hours, began with the elected bodies listening to presentations from Del Rio Sector Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz, Del Rio Port of Entry Director Liliana Flores, Val Verde County Sheriff Joe Frank Martinez and Shon Young, chairman of the Val Verde Border Humanitarian Coalition.
Ortiz told the group Del Rio’s situation is by no means unique.
“This scenario is playing out across the entire 2,000 miles of the southwest border and in fact there are sectors in the Rio Grande Valley and El Paso that are experiencing much higher volume than we are experiencing here. We are very fortunate that we are able to do a pretty good job of processing, and we’re certainly not experiencing the flow that is coming across the river in some of the other areas,” Ortiz said.
The Border Patrol chief reiterated a statement he made Wednesday: The influx of immigrants is likely to continue for at least the next 18 months.
Flores spoke about the process she and her personnel use to deal with asylum-seekers at the Del Rio Ports of Entry.
Val Verde County Sheriff Joe Frank Martinez said his priority is making residents of Val Verde County and Del Rio feel safe.
The group also heard from Young, who spoke about the volunteer efforts of the Val Verde Border Humanitarian Coalition, whose members are doing the actual work of transitioning immigrants out of De Rio. Young thanked the volunteers and noted more are needed.
The elected officials then voted to suspend the rules of the meeting to allow comments from the public. Comments were limited to two minutes and an overall time limit of 40 minutes was set.
Speakers included Lee Weathersbee, who said his primary concern was the safety of area residents, and Fernando Garcia, who said he was concerned that the city council and commissioners court would increase local property tax rates “because you’re spending money on this project.”
“Do you have the funds to manage this for 18 months?” Garcia asked, adding he would like for the taxing entities to detail how they will spend any funds set aside for the immigrant situation.
Bill White urged those present to write letters to their state and federal elected representatives, Jesus Salgado thanked the coalition volunteers, and Gloria Villegas said, “We need to help these people (immigrants).”
Joseph Bond opined the immigrants are not Del Rio’s or Val Verde County’s responsibility, Mary Johnson wondered aloud if “we are making it easier to come here” and said she was concerned about the message that was sending.
Angela Prather urged elected officials “not to forget the citizens” and said volunteers at the transition center should wear gloves because of the possibility of contracting a communicable disease, Carrie Martin said she did not want tax dollars spent on the immigrants, and Bea Vallejo insisted some of the immigrants “are being paid to come here.”
Krystal Antu asked about protocols for the “diagnosis of deadly diseases,” Roger Johnson predicted this problem would last for decades rather than months, and Rhonda Hargrove wanted to know where the immigrants would be going to court.
Cliff Spencer said he believed “not one penny of our tax money” should be used to deal with the immigrant situation, and Kerr Wardlaw suggested asking the state for reimbursement.
The local elected officials, as per state law, did not respond directly to questions raised by the citizens, though Owens responded to some of the queries later.
He also asked representatives of U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and U.S. Rep. Will Hurd to come forward and address the elected bodies.
The representatives spoke about the work their respective bosses had been doing to help relieve some of the problems caused by the influx of immigrants.
Hurd’s representative, Justin Hollis, said Hurd has introduced legislation to help fix the country’s “outdated” asylum laws.
Cornyn’s spokesman said Cornyn has introduced bipartisan legislation to bring in more immigration judges, as well as making other changes.
Nettleton said he believed “the entire federal government has failed the American people, from the top to the bottom.”
“It’s a sad day when we’re sitting in a room like this, and our community is mad at us because you have failed to do your jobs. . . I don’t care what party you’re from. Will you all just get together and do what’s right for this country? It is time that Washington does its job,” Nettleton asked.
On the heels of Nettleton’s comments, Lozano, too, gave the two representatives a piece of his mind.
The mayor said both Cornyn and Hurd needed to visit Del Rio and spend time at the port, Border Patrol headquarters and processing center so they could see the problems firsthand.
“They need to see the frustrations we’re having to deal with. . . We don’t have the funds to fund this project that has manifested and been dumped here in Del Rio and Val Verde County, and we’re frustrated. We’re extremely frustrated. Our priorities as a city council are our streets, our parks, are the economy. . . It is not our priority to solve immigration problems,” Lozano said.
“It is your job to convey the frustration that I’m sharing . . . It’s falling on deaf ears, and we’re tired of it. We’re sick and tired of the deaf ear. . . We need translators. We needed Portugese and French translators last week and where were they?” the mayor said, adding he has suggested bringing in CBP officers from Canadian ports.
“You all have put us in a bind, and we know it’s not your fault, but it’s your bosses’ fault. We can’t sustain this. We just cannot continue down this road, and I don’t know how this became our problem,” Owens said.
DeReus said until the senator and representative “were jumping up and down on the president’s desk, on Pelosi’s desk and everybody’s desk, going on every talk show there is, it’s not going to make a difference.”
“Get your bosses here and stop being delusional about how these bills are going to help, because they’re not. You need to help us now. You need to do something that’s actually going to help us in the near frame, not six months or 12 months down the line, because we’re going to be swamped by then,” DeReus said.