WASHINGTON • The U.S. Chamber of Commerce laid out a coordinated border plan Wednesday that calls for combined improvements in infrastructure, security, immigration policies and trade, instead of the current piecemeal approach.
The public and private investment in such a program is needed to create a 21st century U.S.-Mexico border that will allow both countries to be secure and to compete in the global economy, the report said.
“Our security and our prosperity intersect at the border,” said former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, chairman of the U.S. Chamber’s National Security Task Force, who unveiled the report.
“I am going to put an exclamation point around immigration reform,” added Ridge, who called for cooperation across the partisan aisle in Washington.
The report said the Nogales Port of Entry, the largest gateway for fresh produce from Mexico, is a critical passage for other products and agricultural commodities moving between both countries. Action and investment in places like Nogales will be critical in improving the relationship between the two countries, the report said.
Such investment would be a “down payment” in the effort to create a “world-class border,” said Patrick Kilbride, senior director, Americas, at the chamber.
The report said the Nogales West Point of Entry is currently in the middle of a $200 million expansion project. But that expansion will require as many as 200 border patrol officers more than the 300 currently staffing Nogales West, the report said.
“If it was your own business, if it was your own crossing, you would make the capital investment,” said U.S. Chamber President Thomas Donahue at Wednesday’s event.
The report also noted the need to give special attention to American businesses, American workers and those who wish to work in this country, to improve the current bottleneck conditions at the borders. Suggestions include a streamlined temporary-worker program, to make it less attractive for workers to enter this country illegally.
One industry greatly impacted by border policy is agriculture, a $10.3 billion industry in Arizona.
“Produce is one of the most innovative industries,” said Lance Jungmeyer, president of the Nogales-based Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, who was on hand for Wednesday’s event in Washington. But time-sensitive produce can be bottled up at the border for as long as 10 hours, the report said.
Since farmers are now trying to serve a world marketplace, Jungmeyer said, there will always be plenty of fruits and vegetables in grocery stores. But whether that produce is mostly imported to or grown in the United States will be decided by the availability of labor.
The report is not meant as a criticism of either the U.S. or the Mexican government: Donahue credited Homeland Security with making a “Herculean effort” in this interdependent problem.
“The will is there, the intention is there ... but there is more work to do,” he said.
Arizona Chamber of Commerce CEO Glenn Hamer welcomed the U.S. chamber’s involvement.
“Given the clout of the U.S. chamber, they are going to have a bigger effect than the Arizona chamber,” he said. “But that said, all state chambers have a role to communicate and expand this robust trade relationship.
“It’s a win-win for both countries. And for states like Arizona, where Mexico is the largest trading partner, the positives that can come out of the report are even more profound,” said Hamer.
Others said this report is repeating what they have been saying for years.
“It’s great that the chamber is engaged in this, no question about that,” said Nelson Balido, president of the Border Trade Alliance. “But this is nothing new. We’ve been telling people all along about this need to get moving.”
Balido explained that nothing will give the United States a more immediate return than investing in both of its borders.
“We have to integrate security and trade. Not balance, integrate,” he said. The chamber report is another tool to highlight and verify what his alliance has spent 25 years lobbying for, Balido said.
Pointing to this country’s current economic straits, the chamber’s report calls for U.S. and Mexican governments, businesses, and citizens to “think strategically about their common future,” suggesting not enough has been done in alliance between all stakeholders.
“How we manage those borders says something about who we are as a nation,” Donahue said in the preface to the report.
Main points of the plan, “Steps to a 21st Century U.S.-Mexico Border”
Security: Violence spawned by the drug war has led to challenges to the rule of law that all companies function on. The goal is to find a common ground between governments and private security at the border to improve safety. One USCC recommendation: Ensure security is equally applied along all the ports of entry and re-establish government-to-government and government-to-business interaction.
Trade: Mexico is the third-largest U.S. trading partner behind Canada and China. One USCC recommendation: Expand the use of unified technology to allow shippers expedite in the flow of trade at the border.
Infrastructure: The Nogales Port of Entry is built to handle the passage of 400 trucks daily, but 1,600 trucks currently cross the border daily. One USCC recommendation: Ports need to increase their capacity through public investment along with federal, state and local funds.
Immigration: U.S. businesses will depend on comprehensive immigration reform in order to be globally competitive and grow. One USCC recommendation: The legal flow of people, goods, and services needs to be streamlined through an improved temporary-worker program.
Travel: Legal travel by tourists crossing the U.S.-Mexico border bolsters both country’s economies, but long wait times to cross make tourism less attractive. One USCC recommendation: Proper customs staffing in order to reduce wait times will create a better experience for visitors to the U.S.