Rio Grande Guardian EDITORIAL: ADVANCING A NORTH AMERICAN CENTURY
Texas Border Coalition members are public officials, business owners and families representing 2.4 million Americans in 17 border counties of the 1,250-mile Texas-Mexico border. This is a region of contrasts in language, culture, tradition and economy whose residents face an array of factors that make their quality of life different than the rest of the people in either Mexico or the United States.
The most recent examination of issues facing the border region is an agenda put forth by the Texas Border Coalition, titled Policies and Proposals by the Texas Border Coalition to Advance a North American Century. According to the Coalition, the combined Gross Domestic Product of the U.S., Canada and Mexico in 2016 will total $22 trillion—greater than China, Japan, Germany and the United Kingdom combined. U.S. trade with Canada and Mexico support nearly 14 million U.S. jobs. Nearly five million of these jobs are supported by the increase in trade generated by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
By straddling both the Transatlantic and Transpacific regional spheres, the Coalition’s agenda points out that global analyses find the Western Hemisphere occupying an enviable position. Combined economic success in the region depends on working together to maximize the advantages in democratic, free-market systems, operating within the free trade agreement.
To claim the North American Century requires the investment in first class education systems, infrastructure and healthcare. It also requires special attention to the keystone of the Western Hemisphere’s common destiny: modern, secure and efficient borders that facilitate the trade and travel that enable Canada, Mexico and the United States to flourish while keeping the nations safe.
The 21st Century North American Century agenda is aimed at improving prosperity in the Western Hemisphere. It addresses the unique challenges the border region faces related to poverty, geography and investment in light of security, trade, education, transportation, and health care.
Sections of the document cover: the nature of the border region; border security; health; transportation; economic development, workforce and public education. Coalition concerns demonstrate the interdependence of factors, which is especially clear as events on one side of the border impact the other.
The Coalition’s agenda indicates that success for the border region requires: efficient borders, more and better education for more people, especially technical and scientific education; well organized transnational transportation systems; health care that improves well-being and productivity of our people. Absolutely critical to boosting benefits of the hemispheric cooperation requires investments: in a secure, efficient system of border crossings; in the education and training of workers; improving transportation networks; advancing the health and well-being of the populations, and establishing policies that foster economic growth.
A major emphasis of the document is Border Security which uses a two-part lens, i.e., security at the legal ports of entry (POE), and security in the vast areas between the entry ports. Two separate governmental entities deal with those two areas: Customs and Border Protection and the Border Patrol.
The nature of threats to border security has been changing, with the transnational drug cartels posing a greater threat to entry port border security than illegal immigration. The Coalition says that governmental data show the huge investment in border security in the open country between ports of entry has reduced illegal activity on the southwest border. Other factors including the Great Recession and the legalization of production and domestically grown marijuana have also contributed to the trend.
At the same time, over three quarters of heroin, methamphetamines, and cocaine smuggled into the U.S. enter through legal entry ports at the border. This illegal trade operates with far better technology, intelligence and mobility than the U.S. government agents employ to prevent it. The traffic of these substances continues to rise.
According to the Coalition, the numbers of people and the amounts of illegal drugs entering between Ports of Entry has declined over the past fifteen years, while the amounts of illegal drugs entering through legal Ports of Entry has skyrocketed. Indicating that Arizona, California and New Mexico have their own unique border, the Texas Border Coalition suggests a Texas Plan to maintain a strong defense in the open country between Ports of Entry while strengthening the legal Ports of Entry.
The Texas Plan includes: strengthening the effective Border Patrol maritime force; modernizing the land Ports of Entry, and hiring and training new Customs and Agriculture Specialists. Additionally, the Coalition supports fair and effective immigration policies that keep border communities secure while recognizing economic contributions made to the U.S. and Texas economies.
An area of growing population, the Texas border region is a world leader in international trade. It has 29 Ports of Entry, thirteen of which process commercial trucks in addition to, or instead of, privately owned vehicles.
North American supply chains are highly integrated with plants, warehouses, distribution centers and suppliers of parts and materials interspersed along both sides of the border. Eighty-four percent of this trade is moved by land, and the majority moves through a select number of key border crossings. The ability to move people and goods across the border efficiently is critical to maintaining tight production and delivery schedules, as well as movement of passenger traffic linking Texas and Mexico.
In 2014, over $246 billion worth of goods and 3.7 million trucks crossed the Texas-Mexico border. A key emerging international cargo corridor is the $2.2 billion Mazatlan-Maramoros Corridor that cuts travel time between Mazatlan and the Rio Grande Valley by six or more hours. It reduces travel costs by between $500 and $1500 per truck. The corridor has helped Texas surpass Arizona aa the nation’s main entry point for agricultural products.
The Coalition applauds current border infrastructure funding, and supports additional funding for: upgrades to reduce wait times and facilitate oversize/overweight vehicle permitting in border trade corridors; additional rail connections between Texas and Mexico; equitable financing methods for road repairs, and engagement with all levels of transportation authorities on behalf of regional priority transportation projects.
The agenda shows the Coalition’s support for education and work force training at every level, from traditional K-12 education, certification programs, adult basic education and expanded higher education opportunities along the border. It supports an equitable and adequate school finance system that provides public school districts in the border region fair and equal access to Texas resources, while recognizing real cost differences among students and districts.
The agenda supports reform and full-funding for adult basic education programs and improved connectivity between public education and career training programs.
The Coalition supports access to primary health care for all; special attention to diseases like diabetes, hepatitis and tuberculosis; expansion of immunization coverage; attention respiratory diseases and asthma; expansion of telemedicine to increase health care access in rural and medically underserved areas, and special attention to mosquito-borne illnesses like Zika.
The Texas Border Coalition emphasizes that interdependence is the way business gets done in the 21st Century economy, and this is especially clear in the border region. Through systems of co-production, the U.S. and Mexico are interdependent for manufactured goods, linking the productivity and competitiveness on both sides of the border and beyond.
Smart trade relationships and policies are indispensable to North America’s economic growth. Wise investments that reduce bottlenecks to trade among the NAFTA nations are needed to improve border crossing infrastructure and upgrade technology. These added to additional staffing for customs oversight and clearance would encourage greater economic growth that already outsizes European and Asian competitors.
In the wake of the Brexit vote, the Texas Border Coalition urges strengthening our U.S. partnerships with Canada and Mexico which would send a message to the world that North America is the powerhouse of the global economy now and in the future.