All politics is local, as the famous adage goes. National headlines such as immigration or gun control are day to day realities for mayors in cities and towns across the country, gathered in Washington, DC for the next few days as part of the U.S. Conference of Mayors Winter Meeting.
Raul Salinas, the Mayor of the border city of Laredo, Texas, is chair of the organization’s Immigration Reform Task Force, a group which held a meeting this morning. A retired FBI agent and former diplomatic attaché in Mexico City, Salinas says local officials like him have been at the forefront of advocating for reforming the nation’s immigration system. “We are a border community, and we cannot afford to keep immigration in the shadows,” says Salinas. “We have zero tolerance for undocumented individuals who come to the U.S. to commit violent and dangerous crimes, but the majority of folks are hard-working and are obeying the law,” says Salinas. The Mayors’ immigration task force has reported that legalizing the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants would add trillions to the nation’s tax coffers.
Adding much-needed dollars to his city’s tax base is one of the reasons Hartford, Connecticut Mayor Pedro Segarra strongly supports changes in immigration laws. “We had been a city of 175,000, and now we are down to a population of 125,000,” says Segarra. “This actually increases unemployment, since less people means you don’t have a strong consumer market,” Segarra says. The Hartford mayor says reforming immigration laws would increase foreign professionals and skilled workers. In addition, Segarra says, immigrant populations serve as conduits as American cities try to export goods and services.
Gun control is another issue where the mayors are pushing for change. Laredo Mayor Salinas says he respects the Second Amendment, and has many hunters and gun enthusiasts in his border city. But as a former FBI agent, Salinas supports the ban on high-capacity clips and assault weapons. “You don’t want to get these weapons in the wrong hands,” he states. “We are vulnerable as a border town, too – when the wrong people get hold of these high-caliber weapons it poses a danger to our community,” Salinas explains.
Both Salinas and Hartford’s Mayor Segarra praised President Obama‘s executive action targeting more money for mental health resources. “Cuts in mental health funding cuts have affected our community a lot,” says Salinas.
Mayor Segarra, who is a former psychotherapist, says he learned that a lot of homicides are outward manifestations of suicide. “The cuts in mental health services end up being picked up by my taxpayers, who then have to pay more for police overtime,” he says. “It’s not fair for our community to have to be the ones to pay to the effects of mass gun distributions or a lack of regulation,” adds Segarra.
The mayors will also be discussing job creation and small business opportunities, as well as the housing market and the educational needs of a changing workforce. But as Congress and the President debate large legislative action on immigration and gun control, the mayor of Hartford, Connecticut says there is one thing he wants to communicate.
“One thing we want to stress is that our cities are made up of families – and our families want change,” Segarra says. “As mayors, we need to communicate our families’ stories, and push for a supportive agenda.”