PUERTO PENASCO, MEXICO - Governors from both sides of the border lashed out at the U.S. government Friday for not doing more to facilitate the flow of people and goods from Mexico into the United States.
Gov. Janet Napolitano led the charge by saying the backups have created a “parking lot” at many border crossings. And she said that the border states want more than the promises they have heard before.
“Our federal governments can no longer satisfy us simply by coming to a meeting and giving a speech,” she said. “What we require are resources and dedication and a priority-setting that has yet to be seen.”
U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said his agency is doing more, including adding more lanes at existing ports of entry and developing and using high-tech approaches to speed crossings.
But Chertoff, in an exclusive interview with Capitol Media Services, said the best way for communities to ease the flow of international traffic is to come up with some cash.
“The business folks down here are going to have to get together and decide how they’re going to finance the infrastructure, how they’re going to deal with the environmental issues,” he said.
On the other side of the equation — keeping people from crossing the border illegally — Chertoff acknowledged the delays in constructing the first stretch of a “virtual fence” in southern Arizona. But he said the bugs are being worked out.
The issue of border delays drew angry comments from several governors. Napolitano complained that the number and size of border crossings has not kept pace with the explosive growth of the region.
“A lot of our border infrastructure went in, in the mid-70s,” she said. “Arizona was a much smaller state then. And California has the same problem.”
Eugenio Elorduy, governor of Baja California, called it “intolerable” that people who need to go to work each day, go to school or simply are visiting the United States are forced to sit in traffic for hours at a time. The crossing at Tijuana in his state is one of the worst along the border.
And California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called it “inexcusable” that it can take up to five hours to get into the United States. He said it’s more than a problem of inconvenience. “We know that this is a huge hazard for the people’s health when you have cars backed up by the thousands and thousands every day throughout the whole day,” he said. Chertoff told Capitol Media Services he understands the financial obligations of the federal government.
“But the budget competes also with things like collapsing bridges, highways in the interior,” he explained. “So if I were interested in getting things moving quickly, I’d come forward as local communities and local businesses to put something on the table and say, ‘We can do this and maybe the federal government can do something else.’ ”
Regarding the delay in erecting the virtual fence, Chertoff said the technology isn’t as cutting edge as it might sound. He said pieces of the technology, including ground radar and automated cameras, have been around awhile “and they do work.”
The secretary said that in a visit earlier Friday to southern Arizona he watched as unmanned aerial vehicles tracked people crossing the border “and sent the image to the guy in the command truck.”
“It was mapped onto a map of the border,” Chertoff said. “You were able to send Border Patrol agents and assets to intercept the illegals. So I know the technology works. I just want to make sure that the contractors got it integrated before I accept it.”