SAN ANTONIO (Border Report) — A Republican from San Antonio told a binational environmental conference this week that security on the Texas-Mexico border has to get better before economic development can occur in the border region.

In contrast to many of the speakers at this week’s U.S.-Mexico Border Environmental Forum XXVI in San Antonio, U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-Texas, said the crowd must address border security and cannot ignore the “crisis” on the southern border.

Gonzales described himself as “feisty” Thursday morning, and said he wanted to stir things up.

“If you don’t have security, you don’t have prosperity or opportunity,” Gonzales said Thursday. “What’s happening right now on the border this is not normal and it shouldn’t be.”

Migrant encounters on the Southwest border, so far this fiscal year, have already surpassed all encounters in Fiscal Year 2021 with 2,002,604 migrant encounters since Oct. 1, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

U.S. Border Patrol agents arrest migrants on June 24, 2021, near Hidalgo, Texas. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report File Photo)

“You can’t have economic development, growth in cultural expanse if you don’t have security,” Gonzales told Border Report after his panel discussion. “What happened in Juarez a couple weeks ago with some of the unrest that shuts everything down, and what you’ve seen in Tijuana and other parts of the border, as well, shows how security is fundamental to it all. But it also shouldn’t be everything.”

Gonzales represents Texas’s 23rd Congressional District, which stretches from San Antonio to the border, and west into parts of El Paso.

Gonzales said getting the public to understand the cultural similarities and bonds that both sides of the border share is important for developing strategies to secure the border and enhance development and binational projects.

“You have to understand the security piece but you also have to understand the economic piece and then the cultural bond. I’ll use El Paso and Juarez as an example. It doesn’t end with that border. That is one city that happens to be in two parts: one in the United States; one in Mexico,” he said.

On Friday, Gonzales is hosting a delegation of Republican congressional candidates from across the country, which he said he will show the border region in western El Paso County and Fort Hancock, Texas, area. They also will get a briefing on border technology and U.S. security measures.

During this week’s conference hosted by the North American Development Bank, many officials, including both ambassadors to the United States and Mexico, touted the security benefits of a binational river park project being developed on the border in Laredo, Texas, and Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, saying it will clear the area, preserve the environment and promote border security.

U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Ken Salazar, left, and Mexican Ambassador to the U.S. Esteban Moctezuma speak to media on Aug. 24, 2022, after touting the Binational River Project during an environmental forum in San Antonio, Texas. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

Gonzales said he supports the binational river project, and said he wishes something similar would begin in his district, which spans over 800 miles and 40% of the Texas-Mexico border.

“These binational projects are exciting because it’s not just words, it’s actions,” Gonzales said. “It shows the promise that can happen.”