NDN in Voxxi - Reasons for Optimism on Border Section of Immigration Legislation

With the first week of the Senate Judiciary Mark-Up behind us, it is clear the Senate Immigration Bill (S.744) retains significant bipartisan momentum. While there were many amendments offered to the Title I Border Enforcement section of the Senate legislation, the “Gang of Eight” was able to retain the balance of enforcement and investment in the critical needs of staffing at our ports of entry at the border. In the House, the Committee on Homeland Security, has quietly been marking up their own Border Enforcement legislation, and thus far has kept the balance of enforcement/investment at the border established by the Senate intact.

These developments can be attributed to a couple of very important developments at our southern border.

Border Communities Are Safer: Since 2008, the budget for U.S. Customs and Border Patrol has grown from $9.3 billion to $11.8 billion in 2012. That is 2.5 billion dollars invested in the the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol alone. Within CBP, the amount of money allocated to the U.S. Border Patrol grew from $1.5 billion in FY 2003 to $3 billion in FY 2010 and continues to grow today. As a result of greater investment, cooperation with Mexico and better strategy has also resulted in an increase in apprehension rates in high traffic crossing areas. A December report from the Government Accountability Office reported that of the Border Patrol’s nine southwest-border sectors, five had more than 30,000 apprehensions in fiscal 2011, making them a “high traffic” corridor. Of these five, San Diego, CA had a 92 percent apprehension rate, El Centro, CA 91 percent, Tucson, AZ 87 percent, Laredo, TX 84 percent and the Rio Grande corridor in Texas was 71 percent. As such the Senate legislation acknowledges these gains in security by balancing enforcement and economic investment in the region.

The U.S.-Mexico relationship is essentially a commercial one: For years the U.S. has viewed our relationship through the prism, today while there are certainly security issues on the Mexico side of the border, there is now an equally compelling economic story to be told. In a new NDN/New Policy Institute report “Realizing the Strategic National Value of our Trade, Tourism and Ports of Entry with Mexico” we note: Six million U.S. jobs depend on our trade with Mexico. Mexico is our nation’s number two export market in the world and our number three trading partner overall. Mexico is our nation’s second most important foreign tourism market as well as the fourth-ranked in terms of spending by tourists.

The bipartisan “Gang of Eight’s” Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 proposes the addition of 3,500 additional Customs and Border Protection officers to staff the ports of entry on the southern border. Twenty-three states have Mexico as their number one or number two trading partner. As such it should come as no surprise that after the first week of markup the additional staffing has remained in the legislation and is likely to be included or enhanced in the House version of the bill.

Bottom line: there is fairly broad bipartisan agreement in Congress on the need to improve our land ports of entry with Mexico, which are responsible for screening and facilitating legitimate trade and travel. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) is sponsoring a bill in the Senate that enables public-private partnerships at the ports of entry; in the House, Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX 28) is sponsoring an identical bill.

This additional staffing is badly needed to relieve commercial, passenger and pedestrian congestion at our ports of entry with Mexico. A continued shift in attitude and approach, a bit of investment and some creative thinking on how to most efficiently and safely move people, goods and services between our two countries through our numerous, highly congested land ports of entry would greatly improve this already robust economic relationship.

A version of this piece was orginally published on VOXXI and can be read here