Valley leaders fear Guard deployment fallout

Border militarization could flatten McAllen economy

McALLEN, TEXAS (KXAN) – As members of the Texas National Guard prepare to leave their families for an undetermined period for a border security support mission, business and community leaders on the border are formalizing their opposition to what some call the militarization of the area.

“Our hope is you will reconsider the deployment of the National Guard in light of the damage, although unintentional, that will result to our community and the economy of the entire Rio Grande Valley,” wrote Steve Ahlenius, President of McAllen’s Chamber of Commerce in a letter to Governor Rick Perry.

Ahlenius’ letter argued deploying the Guard to the border sends the wrong image to 200 South Korean and Japanese companies he said are considering moving manufacturing facilities to McAllen, a tri-city region of nearly 775,000 known as the Rioplex. Data from the 2010 Census show the area’s population is up more than 36% from the previous decade.

The letter to the Governor, dated July 29th, supports the DPS surge and contends numbers of unaccompanied children from Central America crossing the border is down from June and from last year. The one-page document obtained by KXAN Tuesday also suggests the National Guard could do more immediate harm than good.

“The Guard cannot detain, question, arrest or use weapons against anyone of whom they are suspicious of illegal entry and may actually hinder operations,” the letter shows.

Ahlenius pointed out that during the last major federal military deployment to the border in 2006, a US Special Ops Marine accidentally shot to death an unarmed Mexican teenager mistaken for a drug smuggler near El Paso.

“There are much better uses for $38 million that it will cost the State of Texas for this deployment,” Ahlenius wrote. “Those ideas include providing additional funding for local law enforcement investigation, expansion of the DPS and its investigation capabilities for our region, and partnership of technologies and surveillance equipment tied to the Border Patrol response teams.”

Ground level economic impact feared, too

The Executive Director of the non-profit worker rights group La Unión Del Pueblo Entero or LUPE tells KXAN the looming border deployment could have a much more immediate impact on ground level employment in the Rio Grande Valley.

“We are not in a war zone… The more your military is in the community, the more fear in the community, the more hesitant people are to come out to show up for their jobs. A lot of them are undocumented and are still working in the area,” Juanita Valdez-Cox, LUPE Executive Director told KXAN by phone Tuesday.

Valdez-Cox says what happened last year when there was a noticeable increase in enforcement efforts. In September 2013, DPS temporarily set up checkpoints to curtail human and drug smuggling operations and related crimes like home invasions. The operation was also aimed at curbing the number of unsafe drivers.

“It was strange for us. We heard about grocery stores getting less business, people not going to their doctor’s appointments, children (of undocumented immigrants) were absent from local schools.”

KXAN reached out to Gov. Perry’s Office to ask if the Chamber’s letter and other less formal opposition to the National Guard plan might slow the pace of deployment or change the mission. We received no response by Tuesday afternoon.

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