Trump team brings tough talk to border

Trump team brings tough talk to border
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Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsFederal judge rules Trump defunding sanctuary cities 'unconstitutional on its face' FBI informant gathered years of evidence on Russian push for US nuclear fuel deals, including Uranium One, memos show Alabama election has GOP racing against the clock MORE and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly doubled down on the Trump administration's approach to immigration enforcement and border security in El Paso, Texas, on Thursday.

“This is ground zero. This is the front lines, and this is where we take our stand,” Sessions said.

Sessions and Kelly in recent days have focused their agencies on immigration enforcement as a public safety priority, highlighting the threats posed by drug cartels and multinational gangs.

“We will maintain our borders, we will enforce Congress’ duly enacted laws, and we will protect our communities from the scourge of cartels and gangs,” Sessions said Thursday.

Kelly touted the hiring of new immigration judges in the Trump administration as a means to speed up the deportation process.

The dearth of immigration judges has long plagued the immigration justice system, creating long backlogs and wait times with undocumented immigrants either in detention or temporarily released without legal status.

“People who illegally cross our borders do not respect the laws of our nation. We want to get the law breakers off our streets, and out of the country, for the good of our communities,” said Kelly.

Democratic lawmakers criticized the focus on security, emphasizing the border region's relatively low crime rate.

“Some of us just roll our eyes when somebody comes in from Washington and talks about security and they're missing part of the essence of border life,” Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) told The Hill. 

“I think they're missing part of what the border life is all about and part of the border life is retail and commerce and trade and tourism with Mexico,” he added.

There have also been concerns from local authorities that some immigrants, legal and undocumented, might avoid reporting crimes, or that they are witnesses to crime, because of the administration’s tougher enforcement position.

In a statement before Thursday’s visit, El Paso Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D) said he wanted Kelly and Sessions to “understand that our community's security — the public safety of El Paso — depends on the full participation of everyone in the community in keeping us safe.”

Members of both parties from border states have offered criticism of Trump’s proposal to build a wall on the border, arguing it could have a devastating effect on the region’s economy.

El Paso's other congressman, Republican Will Hurd, in a statement before the visit, urged the secretaries to re-think the viability of a border wall, President Trump's signature campaign promise.

“While Attorney General Sessions and Secretary Kelly visit the El Paso area, I am hopeful that they will listen to the law enforcement agents on the ground and realize that a wall from sea to shining sea will be the most expensive and least effective way to secure the border,” he said.

Border communities are disproportionately dependent on trade with Mexico for their economic well-being, and also profit from Mexicans crossing the border to buy American goods and services.

Under Trump, both legal and illegal crossings have plummeted, a sign that the administration's dissuasive policies are working to curb illegal immigration, but also that Mexicans are less willing to spend money in the United States.

Still, cross-border trade seems to have avoided a downturn, as Mexican manufactured products have become relatively cheaper in the United States due to the peso's weakening against the dollar, largely as a result of investors' caution after Trump's election.

Cuellar, who Thursday oversaw the start of construction for a cross-border cargo bridge expansion in Laredo, said it is important to strike a balance between border trade and border security.

Kelly and Sessions made no mention of trade or legal cross-border movement of goods and people in their speeches, central issues for border communities.