PANEL: Growing Together: How a 21st Century Border is Essential to Prosperity in Both the U.S. and Mexico

NDN and NPI are proud to say that the first LAPI-21st Century Border Inititiave Policy Day, was a huge success. The day featured speeches from senior officials from the White House, the State Department, United States Trade Representatives, and Local Officials speaking. The day also covered a wide spectrum of views on the Americas and the border.

The 21st Century Border portion of the day focused first on the perspective of a Mayor who lives and works with a Mexican Border, this panel was moderated by Chappell Lawson, Associate Professor of Politics at MIT and featured the Mayor of Nogales Arturo Garino.

Following this, Maria Luisa O’Connell, Senior Advisor for Trade and Public Relations Office of the Commissioner US Customs and Border Protection, DHS  led a roundtable panel discussion Growing Together: How a 21st Century Border is Essential to Prosperity in Both the U.S. and Mexico. While this panel was designed to discuss infrastructure and commerce along the border, the conversations quickly dovetailed into discussions on the interconnectedness of America and Mexico's economies and how the real solution to so many of the problems along the border can be solved with a federal comprehensive overhaul of our immigration system.

Jim Kolbe, former Congressman from Arizona and current Senior Transatlantic Fellow, The German Marshall Fund,  kicked off the panel by putting the border in the context of a much larger economic conversation.  His remarks sought to highlight the enormous economic positives of the border. He also placed this conversation in a more historical place, by noting that the border has been under transformation for some time. In particular, the North America Free Trade Agreement changed how the United States and Mexico conducted business along the border forever. To that point he noted that much of the problems along the border today have very little to do with security and everything to do with outdated infrastructure that has slowed the movement of goods moving into and out of Mexico. (to the left is a photo of El Paso and Ciudad Juarez at night)

Col. Eric Rojo, Vice President of U.S.-Mexico Chamber Of Commerce and Security Program Coordinator for CEDAN-ITESM, followed up Jim's portion of the panel discussion by focusing in on the security aspects of the border. Col. Rojo, noted that the concept of securing the border was antithetical to the realities of our economic interests.  Mexico is the United States second largest trading partner, and shutting down the border would be counter intuitive to the interests of both of our countries. Furthermore "securing" the border is unrealistic in terms of the sheer number of military personnel it would require be placed along the border. He also commented that if the federal government was serious about alleviating some of the security concerns along the border then they would find a way to allow workers who come seasonally to do so legally. What has happened over the last two decades as the border has become more secure, migrants have been pushed into the same routes that drug dealers use, and a new market of human smuggling has been created. If the federal government gave these workers legal means, they would not have to cross illegally.

Martin Rojas, Vice President of Security & Operations, American Trucking Association focused more on the movement of goods across the border as they pertain to trucking issues. The trucking situation encapsulates all of the issues brought up by both of the previous panelists. The commerce issue is huge for both the United States and Mexico, particularly when it comes to ports of entry along the southern border. The demand for movement of goods far exceeds the capacity currently along the southern border. Trucks entering the U.S. must be screened by the federal government to ensure that they are not bringing in any illegal substances. This can create long wait times for goods moving into the country. Customs and Border Patrol have also recently begun scanning outbound traffic leaving the United States which also has created long wait times. With more staff focused within ports of entry and not primarily focused on the border much of these issues could be fixed. This would have a positive effect on the economies of both countries.

We will be putting up a video of this panel shortly.