U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz was in El Paso on Friday to talk with business leaders
Rudy Gutierrez/El Paso Times
While in El Paso on Friday, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz reinforced his support of the border wall and his position that drug-cartel leaders should help pay for it.
Cruz also said upcoming renegotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement should be used to open Mexico’s oil and natural gas resources to U.S. companies.
The Texas Republican’s comments came during a 17-minute press conference at a Downtown El Paso hotel after he met with area business leaders in an almost 90-minute roundtable discussion closed to the news media.
“Walls work. Countries all over the world have walls on their borders,” Cruz said during the press conference on the DoubleTree Hotel by Hilton’s 17th floor, which has an expansive view of Downtown El Paso’s border with Juárez, including a portion of an iron border fence erected under Republican George W. Bush’s presidency.
Many El Paso leaders have said in recent months that a wall is bad for border communities and bad for U.S.-Mexico relations.
“I think it’s a mistake to view the wall as the only solution” to securing the border from illegal immigration and drug trafficking, Cruz said.
“We need a comprehensive solution that also relies on local law enforcement,” technology, aircraft, and Border Patrol agents, he said.
U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas talks meets with the local media following his closed meeting with community leaders and the Borderplex Alliance Friday at the Doubletree Hotel in downtown El Paso. Cruz answered a variety of questions of various topics, including the economy, NAFTA, the border wall, illegal immigration and Obamacare.
Cruz’s comments about the need for a border wall do not deal with the real problem, which is a broken immigration system, said Iliana Holguin, chairwoman of the El Paso County Democratic Party and an immigration attorney.
“Spending (on border security) goes up and up and up and the problem of illegal immigration continues,” Holguin said. “We need to get to the fundamental root of the problem that our immigration laws are severely outdated and don’t meet the needs of our economy.
“Until we fix that root problem, we will continue to have illegal immigration regardless of how big or tall of a wall and how many billions we spend,” she said.
While Cruz talked about the border wall and renegotiating NAFTA, are not priorities for Cruz this year.
He said his “four big priorities” for 2017, are: repealing the Affordable Care Act, or so-called Obamacare, reducing federal regulations, tax reform, and insuring any Supreme Court openings are filled by “principled constitutionalists.”
He said he’d like to have a flat federal tax and abolish the IRS.
This was Cruz’s first trip to El Paso in 10 months, when he took an aerial tour of Fort Bliss. That visit was also closed to the news media.
And it was his first visit since El Paso Congressman Beto O’Rourke in March launched his campaign to try to be the Democratic challenger for Cruz’s Senate seat, up for election next year.
“Texas needs a full time Senator who is focused on every part of this state instead of his personal advancement,” O’Rourke said in an emailed statement. “We need a Senator who will stand up to this President on border walls, on his promise to conduct military style roundups of immigrants, on his efforts to weaken our connection to Mexico.”
Cruz said after the press conference that O’Rourke’s challenge had nothing to do with him coming to El Paso..
Cruz took part in a roundtable discussion hosted by The Borderplex Alliance, a regional economic development organization based in El Paso.
Borderplex Alliance Chief Executive Officer Jon Barela in a statement said Borderplex officials were asked to host a meeting with Cruz and the organization’s member-investors.
“We consider invitations to private events, such as the discussion with Sen. Cruz, to be among the benefits of investing in The Borderplex Alliance,” Barela said.
“We thank him (Cruz) for coming to the region, listening to our regional concerns, and having a frank conversation about potential policy changes that could impact Texas,” Barela said.
Boderplex on June 1 hosted a public luncheon for Texas’ other senator — Republican John Cornyn, who gave his views about renegotiating NAFTA with Mexico and Canada, and other issues.
Cruz said NAFTA was one topic “discussed quite a bit” in Friday’s Borderplex meeting.
Renegotiating NAFTA “could well be a good thing” since the free-trade agreement is more than 20 years old, Cruz said.
One major focus of the renegotiation should be opening Mexico’s enormous energy resources to development by American companies, especially Texas companies, which have the expertise and capital to help develop those resources, he said.
Such development “could produce thousands of high-paying jobs in Mexico, and in Texas, he said. “It’s a win-win for everyone.”
Cornyn has similar views on the NAFTA renegotiation.
As for Trump’s plan for a border wall, Cruz said he has a financial solution for arguments by Democrats and others who say it would be too expensive to build.
He recently introduced the “El Chapo Act” in Congress, which, he said, proposes to use billions of dollars seized from notorious Mexican drug-cartel leader Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, now in U.S. custody, and money seized from other drug lords to pay for the wall
Cruz said he’s seen estimates that the wall could cost $14 billion to $20 billion.
A report done in April for U.S. Senate Democrats put the price tag at almost $70 billion, according to the New York Times.
“A wall slows down an illegal incursion long enough for boots on the ground to intercept,” Cruz said. “Here in El Paso, you have the wall (iron fence) constructed to keep El Paso safe.”
But the Borderplex’s Barela and other El Paso leaders have said putting a wall along the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border is bad for U.S.-Mexico relations, and should not be built.
Vic Kolenc may be reached at 546-6421; firstname.lastname@example.org; @vickolenc on Twitter. Times reporter Daniel Borunda contributed to this article.