SAN DIEGO – Mexican mayors from cities on the U.S. border held their biannual meeting in the United States for the first time Thursday but failed to draw interest from their U.S. counterparts as they exchanged thoughts on topics ranging from illegal immigration and the environment to economic growth.
Only one U.S. mayor — Jerry Sanders of San Diego — attended the inaugural cross-border meeting, and his city was the host. Sanders left after welcoming remarks.
The one-day meeting was initially scheduled in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, which last week canceled its Independence Day celebration amid raging, drug-fueled violence. More than 2,200 people have been killed in Juarez this year, continuing its hold as the place hit hardest by Mexico's drug violence.
The mayors denied that violence plaguing Juarez, across from El Paso, Texas, influenced the venue change. They said Sanders offered San Diego, and they accepted in an effort to entice U.S. mayors.
Juarez Mayor Jose Reyes, who leaves office next month, said some U.S. mayors were preparing to leave office or campaigning. He said only three leaders came to the first meeting of Mexican mayors several years ago in Tijuana.
"This isn't going to be something that happens immediately, just by sending out invitations," Reyes told a news conference.
The turnout wasn't much better among Mexican mayors. Only four came — from Juarez, Tijuana, Nogales and Nuevo Laredo. Two others sent aides.
Tijuana officials said Monday they were expecting 12 Mexican mayors and six U.S. mayors.
The mayors urged the U.S. government to send more money to border regions from its $1.4 billion Merida Initiative to fight drug trafficking. They also asked for accelerated efforts to fly deported illegal immigrants to their hometowns in Mexico instead of returning them to border cities.
The mayors avoided discussion of the violence in Juarez but offered advice in interviews.
Tijuana Mayor Jorge Ramos said he has urged Juarez Mayor-elect Hector Murguia to work closely with the Mexican army and purge corrupt police officers. He said Tijuana has forced out 600 officers from a force of 2,500 under his watch.
Nuevo Laredo Mayor Ramon Garza said local police should focus on fighting petty crime.
"A criminal begins by parking illegally, tossing litter, stealing a car tire," he said. "Then he steals a stereo, then he steals a car, then he robs a store, then he is ready to join organized crime."