Texas Governor Greg Abbott said on Monday September 7th that the most “pleasant and biggest surprise” during his three-day visit with high-ranking Mexican officials was hearing their willingness to help Texas secure the border.
In a brief interview with Texas reporters, Abbott said he’s been impressed with how, “behind closed doors, Mexico has shown great support for securing the border.”
“In all my talks with all Mexican officials, no one has said anything negative about what Texas has done on the border,” Abbott said. “To the contrary, they have talked about ways in which they can better secure the border and better collaborate with Texas.”
Abbott’s observations came during his first international trip as governor, a three-day visit to Mexico amid tensions over border security, and he sought to balance those concerns with prospects of greater economic integration. The visit ended Tuesday with a meeting with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto at Los Pinos, the presidential residence.
Abbott was expected to invite Peña Nieto to visit Texas in the coming months, and the two leaders are expected to announce initiatives on issues ranging from border infrastructure to water. Mexican officials have expressed hope that Abbott will either amend or end the controversial travel advisory, in which Texas’ top law enforcement agency warns thousands of college and high school students to avoid Mexico during spring break.
“Those are issues that are still under negotiation,” Abbott said when asked whether he had plans to eliminate the advisory.
Asked about Abbott’s remarks on security, one senior Mexican official expressed appreciation about the governor’s “satisfaction,” but reiterated that Mexico has long been working to secure its border with the United States and that any attack on the U.S., particularly through the Mexican border, would have devastating consequences for Mexico.
Mexican officials have especially been sensitive about GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump’s fulminations against Mexico and its people.
“We’re pleased Governor Abbott has shown great courage to come here and his willingness to listen firsthand to Mexico’s views on border security and only wish others, too, would learn the facts before speaking their minds,” the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “The more we communicate, the easier we can achieve our mutual goal of generating prosperity for both sides of the border.”
Former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Tony Garza said, “I think Governor Abbott knows that safe, secure and efficient borders are possible, but only through open communication with our partners in Mexico.”
Trump has led the recent barrage, but Texas Republicans and some Democrats have used border security as an issue to win electoral support. Texas is sending hundreds of its law enforcement officers to the border to crack down on illegal immigration and organized crime, although Mexican migration is down dramatically, and few cases of spillover violence have been reported.
During the 2015 legislative session, Abbott championed a dramatic increase in state spending on border security. Over the next two years, the state will spend $800 million, a cost Abbott has said is necessary because the federal government has not met its responsibilities.
But the real danger isn’t just the border, said Agustín Barrio Gómez, president of the Mexico Image Foundation, an organization created to improve Mexico’s image abroad.
“The biggest danger is ignorance and not knowing how much the prosperity of both countries depends on mutual cooperation,” Barrio said.
The goal of Abbott’s visit, people in both Mexico and Texas have said, is to lower the harsh rhetoric and focus on expanding trade opportunities.
“This is a new chapter in the relationship of Mexico and Texas, and it is a new beginning of what has been a rich history,” Abbott said in a keynote address Monday to a group of business and political leaders. “But I believe that as we move forward, the chapters yet to be written will be more profound, more successful, more enriching, more prosperous than the chapters in the past.”
Abbott noted that his wife, Cecilia, has Hispanic roots and said that their marriage is a union of cultures that transcends borders. He pointed to his own accident — a tree that fell on him and left him using a wheelchair — as a realization that “shows that our lives are not defined by how we are challenged. Instead, we define our lives and our future by the way we respond to the challenges we face.”
He added, “In our long history of Texas and Mexico, there have been so many great things that have happened, and, yes, we have our challenges, and we will have our challenges going forward, [but] the important thing as we leave here today is to focus on the way we respond to those challenges.”
Still, it’s been more than eight years since a Texas governor visited Mexico, a theme that resonated in the luncheon chatter.
Mexico’s new undersecretary for North America, Carlos Perez Verdia, praised Abbott for visiting Mexico but noted that eight years between visits is “far too long.”
“Let’s not let that happen again,” he said.
Carlos Cascos, the Texas secretary of state, later responded: “That will never happen again. … We’re not just roommates or neighbors. We share culture, and more importantly we share family and friendship.”
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