Written by Jacqueline Arias of the Rio Grande Guardian
WESLACO, RGV – A unified delegation from the Rio Grande Valley visited Washington, D.C., in a historic trip to speak about the misconceptions of the border region and the possibility of increasing border resources.
Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, held a phone conference on Wednesday with the RGV delegation to discuss what they achieved on the trip and on tackling the negative reputation that the border region receives. Cuellar represents the western end of the Valley.
“Living on the border, representing part of the Valley, I see officials from Austin, officials from Washington DC, that when they talk about the border they paint it in a negative light, and in my opinion, they’re wrong,” Cuellar said. “The border is safer.”
Cuellar explained the purpose of his trip was to highlight the border region and how a message of unity from the border can create opportunities for resources.
“The reason this trip is important, in my opinion, is two folds,” the Congressman said. “Number one, this allows the Valley and the border to talk about the positive aspects of the border, a positive story coming out of the border, number one. Number two, coming in as a united front, this will allow the border to come in and ask for resources in the border.”
Rose Benavidez, president of the Starr County Industrial Foundation, joined the RGV delegation to explain how a united voice from the Valley can help provide funding opportunities from different government agencies for programs the border region needs.
“What we have found is that we’ve always made trips individually or independently, but this collective effort to share a voice and a unified message of not just want the needs are in the Rio Grande Valley, but also the story of the benefits and the story of the opportunity that exist in the Rio Grande Valley,” Benavidez said.
“But something we were real fortune to do with the Rio Grande Valley Partnership and we hope this is the beginning of what’s going to be a long standing trip to D.C., but we were also able to accomplish thanks to Congressman Cuellar and our other Valley delegation, was the idea that we were able to meet a lot of agencies and a lot of individuals that were able to provide funding opportunities, proposal opportunities, but give us guidance in how we can bring more dollars, but more importantly more programs to the Rio Grande Valley.”
Sergio Contreras, president and CEO of RGV Partnership, organized the trip that had business, community and education leaders from all four counties in the Valley. Contreras said the RGV delegation met with several members of Congress, government agencies and foundations, such as, the National Institute of Health, the National Science Foundation, the US Economic Development Administration, the Department of Homeland Security, the US Small Business Administration, General Services Administration, the Department of Justice, the Wilson Center, and the Border Trade Alliance, according to Congressman Cuellar.
Shirley Reed, the president of South Texas College, spoke about the “master plan” of the Regional Center for Public Safety Excellence at STC, which will provide specialized training for law enforcement officials, and how the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice can help the $70 million program.
“We had an opportunity to meet with the Department of Justice and to learn that they do provide free training in the full spectrum of law enforcement,” Reed said. “They’re available to come to the Valley to put on training. They want to be a partner. They helped us understand what it takes to be a partner. We also met with the Department of Homeland Security; they were quite impressed with the master plan. They certainly concurred that this is something that really makes sense, but it was going to take the collaboration of several state, federal, and local agencies to make this a reality. So it was an extremely productive couple of days.”
Rep. Cuellar recommended the RGV delegation return to Washington in February before the House Appropriations Committee decides on the new budget in March 2018.
Contreras says they will return to follow up with the different agencies they met with to continue the conversation of expanding border resources.
“It provides us the opportunity to, in the sense of, one, in supporting our Congressional delegation, and meet here to take some action as we go back to the Valley and follow up with those different agencies and engage in that conversation,” Contreras said.
Congressman Cuellar is optimistic a united RGV delegation will be just as productive as the other delegations from Laredo and San Antonio that represent South Texas.
“I’ve seen this very effectively done for Laredo, very effectively done for San Antonio, now the valley is coming in with a united voice which I think will be very effective.”