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The Magnet Tribune: Justyne Bernal

Mayor of Laredo Pete Saenz poses in a conference room at City Hall during an interview with The Magnet Tribune.

Border town Mayor Pete Saenz speaks about recent political controversies

December 13, 2017

After growing up in Laredo, Texas, and moving away for a while, Pete Saenz decided to be the positive change that he always wanted to see in the place he grew up in. With his bright outlook and respect for the border town and its future, he was elected mayor in November of 2014.

Saenz creates positive outlook

In the beginning, Saenz created his own agenda, “New Voice, New Vision.” A goal that he works to achieve each day to be influential in Laredo.

“We needed a change. I felt that it was more the same, more the same. I’m doing my best to be different,” Saenz said in an interview with The Magnet Tribune in his office at City Hall.

He was able to win the election due to his hard work, positive mindset, and ambition that he portrayed during his campaign election.

“I think that there is a lot of opportunity to do a lot of good. But, (there are) a lot of obstacles and different thinking. You just have to be patient and try to stay focused on your platform and what the people elected you to be and pray every day,” Saenz said.

Success is earned

During his term of being Laredo’s mayor, he has been tested in high waters but somehow has seen this experience as a fascinating and memorable one.

“I’m here and I enjoy being mayor. It is very challenging and interesting. (It is) Never a dull moment. Politics is a world in itself,” Saenz said.

Although he faced hardships growing up, those rough times have contributed to shaping him into the man/politician he is today. While Saenz attended St. Joseph’s Catholic School, his family made their living by selling cabritos (young goats), calves, and horses. Being raised around hardworking people, the mayor has experienced and observed what earning success is like.

“I have learned what hard work is all about,” Saenz said.

This politician has worked hard to get where he is now by being unselfish of his time in college, using every moment he had to reach his goal to support his family and become a successful person. Never did Saenz have it easy, but he refused to let himself give up.

“I was married with three kids and working at night. Things worked out. You just do what you have to do for your family, career, and sacrifice,” Saenz said.

Accomplishments after high school

After high school, Saenz graduated from Texas A&I University in Kingsville, Texas with a bachelor’s degree in animal science and a master’s in agriculture. Following this achievement, he married and continued his education at St. Mary’s Law School and earned his Ph.D. in law.

Saenz passed his bar exam and moved back to Laredo, Texas. He then began his journey and worked for a local firm as an associate, then a partner for 17 years. As time passed, he opened his own firm, but he was not able to run the firm once he became mayor.

“Being mayor is a full-time job,” Saenz said.

Before returning to Laredo, he lived in San Antonio, Texas, a city just about 3 hours from the place he had always called home. Despite the milestones he earned in that city, he believed that it was a part of his destiny to run for mayor. Saenz felt that as mayor, he could be the positive shift in the border town.

“It was a calling to become mayor. To bring a new voice, an honest voice. Politics in Laredo have been known to be highly questionable. I felt that our city was worthy of a lot more,” Saenz said.

 Stay focused

Each day the mayor goes to City Hall with the ambition to be perfect and influential for the citizens of Laredo that see no light in their future.

“I’m focused every day. I try to be a good example. I try to make the right decisions and be the voice for the people who were voiceless and really feel hopeless,” Saenz said.

When first elected mayor, Saenz said the biggest conflict he faced was “to enter a world where there is a lot of criticism.”

 Differences between the Trump Administration and Saenz on immigration

A conflict that he has encountered since being in office is the way his Laredo residents have reacted to the presidential election of Donald Trump and the way he portrayed himself as during his campaign. The mayor feels that the way the administration is running itself offends the Mexican ethnicity.

“I know there was a lot of criticism on the Mexicans and the immigrants. The approach that the president has been taking, an aggressive approach, I question. It can be done in a different way without creating this fear with both the populations of undocumented people and those around them. We just have to stop, be reasonable, and approach these things,” Saenz said.

Laredo is a border town to Mexico which means that a greater number of the city’s’ residents are immigrants and Hispanics.

“Undocumented people, we do not know how many there are, but they are very much a part of our community. Laredo is a city of immigrants. Majority of us are Hispanics,” Saenz said

This is a major factor why the Trump Administration intends to fix immigration laws and the way our country enforces them. The mayor agrees these issues need to be resolved but in a peaceful way.

“I feel very strongly that we need comprehensive immigration reform. We need to secure our borders. We all agree on securing the border. We want to see who is coming in and out,” Saenz said.

No need for a wall

One idea that the Trump Administration has planned to do since the elections is to create a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. Despite his support of the U.S. needing more border security, Saenz does not agree with the wall.

“I have been against the wall. It is offensive to us and to Mexico. There are better ways of securing our borders. I feel that we don’t need a wall, we could do without,” Saenz said.

“On a more global view, I think a wall would hurt more,” Saenz added.

Laredo’s border to Mexico is protected by the Rio Grande, which is a natural barrier, U.S. Customs Officers, and Border Patrol Officers. Instead of investing in a wall, Saenz believes the money should be used to create a “virtual wall.”

“We are basically saying ‘look we have the technology, clear the river, negotiation, add visibility, create roads.’ We would invest just a fraction of the money that they would spend on the wall,” Saenz said.

The mayor argued that it would negatively affect our close associations with the country across the river, creating “animosity between nations.”

“Being Hispanic and having this close relationship with Mexico, we need each other. We are here; we have to work with them. They are not going away. I have worried especially because we are so dependent on Mexico,” Saenz said.

Laredo needs NAFTA

One way that the city is closely involved with Mexico is through the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). This is a deal between the U.S, Mexico, and Canada that has been an asset towards boosting Laredo’s economy.

“This is why Laredo has been so successful in trade. If that goes away, it is going to heavily impact our economy. The industry is easy 40 or 50 percent of our economy. We depend heavily on it. I think there has to be a balance,” he said.

Better ways to improve border security

With an increase of U.S. Border Patrol and Customs Officers, Saenz sees the nation’s borders to become more secure.

“We have a lot of Border Patrol and Customs people here. We depend heavily on them. They’re good for the economy, too. We need their security. We need more people on the ground,” Saenz said.

 DACA recipients deserve a chance

The mayor believes these immigration cases need to be resolved to create tranquility and put this conflict to an end.

“We need to once and for all bring peace to the immigrant and to the U.S. Who would want to like to live a life with people following you?” Saenz said.

In recent politics, the Trump Administration has made plans to end The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and is calling Congress to deal with this policy removal. DACA gives people that were brought here as children by their parents to remain in the U.S. with certain regulations and requirements.

As a father, mayor, citizen, and a politician, Saenz approves of DACA. He believes this immigration policy should stay in place.

“I’m in favor of DACA. These kids that were brought here by their parents, majority because they seek a better place,” Saenz said.

A major reason why the mayor thinks it is only right to keep the DACA policy active is to avoid the separation of families.

“Border Patrol may catch you one day and split you from your family or send you back. I’m totally for family,” Saenz said.

The strongest argument made throughout citizens is these DACA recipients only know the American way of living, since they grew up in this country and not their birthplace.

“They do not know any other culture. They are American. They speak English, the majority are good students, they contribute, and have joined the military. They have done their part and are wanting to be as American as most Americans born here,” Saenz said.

“I would hope that Congress will give the DACA population a place in the U.S. because that is all they know,” Saenz added.

He believes there should be more understanding, and considerations taken in by the Trump Administration and Congress towards these immigrants, the majority being Hispanics, an ethnic group that the Trump Administration has somehow appeared to target.

“There has got to be compassion here at some point. If I were him, I would at least give that to the Hispanics,” Saenz said.

The people who qualify for DACA want to come to the U.S. so they will have the opportunity to live the American Dream. Saenz said the removal of DACA would only bring a “dark cloud.”

“The majority of these people come here to seek a living. I would be doing the same thing if I had no hope. You will do whatever you can to provide a living for your family,” Saenz said.

There have been different opinions expressed and Saenz feels optimistic for the future of this policy.

“I feel hopeful that at the end of the day things will work out for the DACA people,” Saenz said.

Stay positive and be the voice for your community

Although cases where there is racism towards Hispanics do occur, the mayor says, “you do not hear those complaints in Laredo. We do not have these issues here in Laredo, we are respectful.”

These actions by the Trump Administration have affected this border town highly, but the mayor is doing everything in his power to prevent further complications.

“We are doing the best we can here on the border considering all the issues we have had,” he said.

In addition, he advises the community to keep fighting to be a voice in government despite the troubles.

“We are all concerned and should be working towards the reward we want to see. The only way we have is through advocacy. We have to express our opinion to the people who vote,” Saenz said.

“Speak up. Keep at it the best way you know. People of good conscientious need to step up although it is a mess. Sometimes you got to do what is right. Ultimately, we will raise the level of integrity, so we could be better-governing people,” Saenz added.

To the teens that do not agree with the way the Trump Administration, Saenz urges them to stay open-minded and involved in politics.

“You have every right to feel that way. Life is a journey, stay open, search for the truth, and you will see that you evolve,” Saenz said.

Saenz continues to be patriotic about the U.S. and will continue to do so regardless of the differences he has with the Trump Administration.

“Despite all the issues that we have, we are still the best country in the world. Just look around, travel, read, go on the internet, and hear about other countries. We are still the best country,” Saenz said.

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