Border Dems ask Pelosi to delay USMCA vote over violence in Mexico

Border Dems ask Pelosi to delay USMCA vote over violence in Mexico
© Greg Nash

Two Texas Democrats asked House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiRepublicans will pay on Election Day for politicizing Trump's impeachment Trump chooses high-profile but controversial legal team Trump: Impeachment timing intended to hurt Sanders MORE (D-Calif.) on Wednesday to use negotiations on the new North American trade deal to secure a security agreement with Mexico.

In a letter to Pelosi, Reps. Filemón Vela and Vicente González said organized crime violence in northern Mexico has become an impediment to trade that's forced companies doing business along the border to invest in private security.

"We can no longer afford to separate public security from trade as this faulty distinction will perpetuate severe economic and security implications," they wrote.

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"We believe these negotiations provide an opportunity to secure a pledge from Mexico that it will take concrete steps to break down this remaining barrier to secure American trade," added the lawmakers.

González told The Hill on Thursday he believes the House should avoid voting on the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) until Mexico makes a commitment to improve security.

Mexico's legislature has already approved USMCA, a revamped version of the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), but the United States and Canada have yet to ratify the deal.

The main issue holding back House Democrats from voting on the agreement is implementation of Mexico's labor reform, but some Democrats have expressed concern over Mexico's enforcement of environmental provisions in the deal. There is also concern about a provision in the agreement about pharmaceutical patents.

González and Vela, who represent Texas's two southernmost districts, are injecting security into the trade conversation as momentum for a USMCA vote has slowed amid the House presidential impeachment inquiry.

The Mexican embassy in Washington declined to comment on the letter.

The letter comes after high-profile violent crime incidents in northern Mexico that have rattled bilateral relations.

In October, Sinaloa cartel gunmen took to the streets in the city of Culiacán to secure the release of Ovidio Guzmán — the son of drug lord Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán — who was briefly detained by federal security forces.

And in November, nine women and children who held dual U.S.-Mexico nationality were murdered by gunmen in an ambush near the international border in the state of Sonora.

Both incidents received extensive media attention in the United States, shining a light on violence in Mexico, which has consistently risen over the first year of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's administration.

In their letter, González and Vela pushed for a commitment by Mexican Secretary of Security and Civilian Protection Alfonso Durazo, who in April announced a pilot program to patrol the highways near border crossings to South Texas.

"This was a step in the right direction," they wrote. "However, cargo theft, robbery and other violent acts continue to be perpetrated on major thoroughfares across Mexico."

According to Mexican government statistics, 2019 is on track to be the country's most violent year since the current statistical model was adopted in 1997.

Vela and González wrote that the violence has led businesses and individuals to resort to extreme measures, like paying protection fees to criminal organizations.

"As such, we respectfully request your assistance to obtain an assurance that Mexico will maintain the security measures associated with this program on designated highways and provide a timeline to expand such measures to all federal highways that connect to ports of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border," they wrote.