|PHOENIX, May 6 - When the Obama administration looks at our border with Mexico, does it see dollar signs? That's what the president's Fiscal Year 2014 budget says with the border tax it's considering.
I was reviewing the president's budget, and buried deep in the section relating to the Department of Homeland Security, there is language directing the commissioner of Customs and Border Protection to carry out a study of the potential impacts of collecting a border crossing fee on pedestrians and private vehicles at our country's land borders.
Just because the government has fallen behind during the past four years in funding our nation's ports of entry with up-to-date technology or better infrastructure does not mean that it should now study the collection of a tax to fund those endeavors. For much of the border there are already tolls being collected by municipalities and port authorities for every crossing. This would mean a new tax on top of the existing toll, or a fee where there is no existing fee in exchange for who-knows-what.
Let me spare the government the cost of carrying out such a study: A border crossing tax would be devastating, costing thousands of jobs in border communities that depend on our neighbors' ability to securely cross our borders to shop in our stores, eat in our restaurants, stay in our hotels, visit our tourist attractions and spend time with family and friends.
Slapping a tax on border crossings is a move fraught with economic danger. Visitors from Mexico and Canada represent over 56 percent of all international travelers to the U.S. according to data from the U.S. Travel Association, and the economic health of our border states is closely linked to the ability to attract Mexican travelers. Consider the data:
In Arizona, nearly 99 percent of Mexican visitors come from the neighboring state of Sonora, with over 30,000 direct and indirect jobs tied to Mexico-to-Arizona tourism.
In Texas, spending by Mexican nationals injects over $5.1 billion into the economies of South and Central Texas and supports more than 150,000 jobs.
Visitors from Mexico to California spent over $1.7 billion in 2011.
Mexican visitors to the U.S. are, as Raul Salinas, the mayor of the border community of Laredo, Texas so accurately states, "The best type of visitors." They inject outside dollars into communities, generating jobs and spurring business growth, but without creating a drag on public services. In other words, border-crossing visitors come to the U.S. to shop and spend money, not to visit the public library.
For Mexicans, visiting the U.S. is no picnic. It involves a visit to a U.S. consulate for an in-depth interview and vetting process in order to secure a Border Crossing Card. It most likely requires an hours-long wait in a line of cars waiting to get through the port of entry. Depending on whether the Customs and Border Protection officer the traveler first encounters needs more information, it could mean a lengthy inspection in a secondary screening area. And finally, depending on the traveler's destination, it might mean obtaining an I-94 entry/departure record for a $6 fee and supplying the required myriad of additional information items that proves fiscal solvency in the traveler's home country. It's a wonder they want to come at all. Why in the world would we want to make the process more difficult, more expensive?
Instead of creating new barriers between the U.S. and our neighbors, we should be looking for ways to make the border-crossing experience easier, with fewer hassles and less expense. If Washington is hoping it can solve its fiscal woes by sticking our neighbors with the bill, it's going to be disappointed. Instead it should better support the establishment of new private-public partnerships for infrastructure and technology so that local municipalities have a say in what happens in their communities at the ports of entry and in-between.
Instituting a new border tax is a very bad idea that doesn't need to be studied, it needs to be rejected.
Nelson Balido is the principal at Balido and Associates, a public affairs firm. He is the former president of the Border Trade Alliance and a former member of the Homeland Security Advisory Council. He can be reached at his website, nelsonbalido.com or via Twitter at @nelsonbalido.