Balancing security and the desire for expanded trade is an increasingly tall order for Mexican and U.S. officials.
By Patricia Guadalupe
HISPANIC BUSINESS® magazine
Discussions about the U.S.-Mexico border have taken on new meaning in the wake of September 11, as officials try to address heightened security concerns while improving commerce between the two nations. “Given the level of security the country is in now, facilitating movement at the border is even more important,” said Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-TX) at the sixth annual U.S.-Mexico Chamber of Commerce border conference held last March in Washington, D.C. “The border plays an important role in the prosperity of the United States. We have to make sure we have a system that cargo and people can move through with ease.” Trade between the two countries, valued at $650 million a day, is an important issue on both sides of the border, according to President Bush. “The United States has no more important relationship in the world than the one with Mexico,” he said during a March meeting with his Mexican counterpart, Vicente Fox, at the United Nations Conference on Financing for Development in Monterrey, Mexico. “I want our borders to be modern and secure and to have the very best technology available, and I recognize the great vitality between our respective countries. A vibrant, prosperous Mexico is in the best interest of the United States,” he said after unveiling a new security accord with Mexico that would expand the use of high technology across the 1,951-mile border. Under the program, commuters and truckers who regularly cross the border will be issued electronic cards to facilitate speedier crossings. According to administration officials, the new cards will enable border guards to spend more time inspecting cargo and questioning individuals, helping ensure the normal flow of goods and travelers between the United States and Mexico. The accord provides for cargo inspections at other points as well – seaports, for example – to alleviate traffic bottlenecks at the border. Since the 1994 implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the number of commercial vehicles crossing the U.S.-Mexico border has increased almost 50 percent and trade between the countries has almost quadrupled. The administration’s war on terrorism, however, has created havoc at the border, and commerce is suffering. Because of increased security, what had been a 10-minute trip between El Paso, Texas, and Juárez, Mexico, now takes more than two hours. “We’re talking about the border now more than ever [in Congress]. It’s a big issue,” says Rep. Ciro Rodríguez (D-TX). “As far as congressional action is concerned, we need to have more funding for an upgrade in technology and to hire more people at the INS [Immigration and Naturalization Service] and Customs departments.” Mr. Reyes, a former Border Patrol chief whose current congressional district includes the border city of El Paso, calls the situation at the clogged border “appalling.” “I hope [President Bush] keeps that picture in mind when he discusses the strangled border economy with Mexico’s President Fox,” he says. “It ought to be an embarrassment to talk about revitalizing the border economy out of one side of his mouth, while his administration’s new budget is designed to continue the historical negligence and delay in adequate placement of customs and immigration personnel and new technology to unclog our border.”
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