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Rep. Henry Cuellar on August recess, NAFTA and the border wall

US Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Laredo) at the opening of the new offices of the Atascosa Health Center in Lytle, Texas. August 2017 (SBG/Randy Beamer photo).

[Last week you showed you what Republican Congressman Will Hurd has been doing during the August recess. This week, we're talking with Democrat, Henry Cuellar]

Congressman Henry Cuellar is at his fourth stop of the day.

It's the grand opening of the new location of the Atascosa Health Center in Lytle, where he's talking about the importance of health care and NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement.

"It's important for Atascosa [County] because if you have ag products, Mexico is a big [market] area, in fact we have six million American jobs that have been created because of trade with Mexico."

NAFTA is one of the topics Cuellar has been focusing on as he is criss-crossing his large Congressional District 20, which runs from San Antonio to Laredo and along the border into deep South Texas.

"It's important that we spend time with our communities," Cuellar said. "If you notice, here people are interested in the day-to-day, you know, what sort of health care system do they have? Do they have a job? Are they secure from crime?

"You know North Korea, the other issues that we have, those are important issues. The political fighting that's something we need to get away from. But here on a day to day basis. This is why these trips are so important so we can hear what's important to them."

Last week in Laredo, Cuellar helped open a new joint rail facility, where Mexican customs officials will work alongside US Customs and Border Patrol agents to streamline the inspection process and speed up rail traffic.

"What we're seeing here is a new level of cooperation," Cuellar told the crowd at the dedication ceremony near the border. "So what are we going to get from this efficiency? We have increased trade, reduced congestion, faster customs processes, and of course the enhanced security is good for our side and it's good for the Mexican side.:

Cuellar says the new freight inspection process could eventually help double the number of trains running between the two countries here and help grow the economies of both countries.

"Every day there's one-point-three billion dollars of trade between the U.S. and Mexico. That's over a million dollars of trade every minute. And when people see Russia as a friend and Mexico as an enemy, our world has been turned around because in this area, we get a lot of people that come in from Mexico."

But while Cuellar's been travelling through his district, back in Washington diplomats just started the first round of renegotiating NAFTA, talks which were triggered after President Donald Trump threatened to pull out of the deal.

Cuellar wants to make sure NAFTA is updated and modernized, not gutted. And he wants to make sure millions of Mexican visitors keep coming into the U.S. and to Texas and spending their money. By one estimate Mexicans visiting Texas spend about $5 billion a year.

"You know, hotels, restaurants, La Cantera, North Star, Neiman, just name the places," he said.

But Cuellar and fellow border Congressman, Republican Will Hurd are worried because some U.S. businesses are hurting along the border right now. They're seeing a drop in Mexican visitors and some believe it's because of the tough talk in the U.S. about Mexico and immigrants and plans for a border wall.

Cuellar, a harsh critic of a wall, has a prediction.

"I would say there will be no funding for the wall when we do the appropriations at the end of the year. I want to see the right mixture of technology, cameras, sensors, aerostats, U-A-V's. And we can provide that through technology a lot cheaper. One mile of wall would cost over $20 million per mile. One mile of technology would cost $1 million."

Cuellar is a co-sponsor of Hurd's new bill calling for a wall of technology they've named the 'SMART' Act for 'Secure Miles with All Resources and Technology.'

For a look at the text of the bill and its status, click here.

To see my story on Will Hurd's 'DC2DQ' road trip of town hall meetings through his district, click here.

For information on contacting Henry Cuellar or Will Hurd, or any elected official, click here.

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