PHARR, Texas – The $1.4 trillion omnibus spending package Congress has just passed includes an extension of the Donation Acceptance Program (DAP) and that pleases the Border Trade Alliance (BTA).

DAP enables U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) to explore, create and facilitate partnerships for improvements on port of entry infrastructures and technology, with the investment made by local entities. 

BTA Chair Sergio Contreras noted that DAP was slated to officially sunset this month. Legislation to extend the program by one year was introduced earlier this month in the House by Rep. Henry Cuellar and in the Senate by Sen. John Cornyn. It received bipartisan support.

“The Border Trade Alliance thanks Rep. Cuellar and Sen. Cornyn for this successful bipartisan effort to extend the life of a program that has proven to be an effective tool for the public and private sectors to work together to modernize border infrastructure,” Contreras said. “Cross-border trade volumes are poised to grow under USMCA, so DAP helps border communities meet that demand.”

Rep. Cuellar said DAP is a critical method to invest and expedite improvements at ports of entry in the United States.

“I established this program in 2013 and worked hard to expand it to create jobs, support trade industries and tourism, reduce border wait times, and increase border security,” Cuellar said.

“This reauthorization will only further expand our economic growth and security throughout our nation. As the representative of the busiest land port of entry, I am committed to improving our ports of entry to improve safe and efficient flow of legitimate trade and travel. I want to thank my colleagues in the House, Representatives Torres-Small, McCaul, Gonzalez, and Hurd, as well as Senator Cornyn and Senator Heinrich for their help in writing this bill and ushering support in the Senate.” 

BTA President Britton Clarke Mullen said her group has strongly supported DAP since its 2013 inception and has advocated for additional partnerships between the federal government and local governments and/or the private sector trade community.

“We thank Rep. Cuellar, Sen. Cornyn, and their colleagues in both parties for promoting collaboration between agencies like CBP and GSA and the trade community,” Mullen said. “We look forward to working with Congress and the administration over the next year to strengthen this already successful program.”

Pharr International Bridge

A southbound truck crosses the Pharr International Bridge.

One of the most recent examples of DAP came when CBP, GSA and the City of Pharr announced a formal partnership to further enhance commercial agriculture processing at the Pharr International Bridge. 

Under DAP, the City of Pharr will help fund the construction of 24 new secondary inspection bays, enhancing CBP’s ability to process future increases in commercial truck traffic at the Pharr International Bridge. Thirteen of these bays will include cold storage unit equipment to ensure that produce examinations will not be compromised by the outside elements.

“With the continued increase of imports from Mexico, especially produce-related commodities, that require an inspection from our agriculture specialists, having these additional dock spaces will have a significant positive impact on our ability to expedite the processing time and get shipments on their way into U.S. commerce,” said Port Director Carlos Rodriguez, Port of Hidalgo/Pharr/Anzalduas. 

“The additional cold storage bays will also serve proactively in maintaining the integrity of certain products while they are inspected in climate-controlled areas, rather than exposing them to the South Texas heat.”

Pharr Mayor Ambrosio Hernandez said the project will also include the construction of a new 10,000 square foot agriculture inspection and training facility and provide the equipment and tools necessary to outfit the facility. Hernandez believes the upgraded facility will enhance the ability of CBP agriculture specialists to perform on-site inspections and testing, further facilitating trade through the Pharr bridge.

“The City of Pharr remains committed to working with our federal partners to identify and implement innovative methods to expedite traffic and trade at our international port of entry, making border crossings and inspections function more effectively while helping our trade partners process and cross their goods more efficiently,” Hernandez, said. 

“We are proud to partner with CBP on this and other Donations Acceptance Program projects that provide creative solutions to meet and address specific federal needs at the local level, and keep international trade and commerce flowing swiftly and smoothly.”

Hernandez noted that the Pharr port of entry processed nearly 1,800 commercial trucks transporting more than $13 million worth of agricultural products on a given day in Fiscal Year 2019. He said these products constituted nearly 15 percent of all fresh produce imported into the United States.

GSA Acting Regional Administrator Giancarlo Brizzi said his agency welcomes the opportunity to partner with CBP and the City of Pharr on the project. Brizzi said the project contributes to the efficiency of commercial operations at the Pharr bridge as well as boosting trade with Mexico.

“Through donation programs like these, GSA is able expand and enhance port operations in ways previously unavailable to the federal government,” Brizzi said.

Donations Acceptance Program (DAP) Reauthorization Act of 2020

The Donations Acceptance Program (DAP) Reauthorization Act of 2020 was introduced by Congressman Vicente Gonzalez (TX-15), Congressman Cuellar, Senator Cornyn, Congresswoman Xochitl Torres Small and Senator Martin Heinrich.

Rep. Gonzalez said the goal of DAP is to work with communities along the border to help equip CBP’s frontline officers and trade specialists with the tools and capabilities they need to operate more effectively. He said accepted donations may be used in support of a wide array of CBP operations and may include: new lanes, inspection booths, inspection technologies, intellectual property rights enforcement tools, and more. 

“I am encouraged that we can come together in a bipartisan way to reauthorize the Donations Acceptance Program. By extending this program, we are protecting ongoing public-private partnerships, spurring job growth, and strengthening the trade and tourism economies of border communities. I will continue to support efforts that will fully modernize our ports of entry, like the Pharr and Donna-Rio Bravo POEs in South Texas, and make life better for those in the 15th District of Texas,” Gonzalez said.

Sen. Cornyn noted that without the extension, DAP would have expired. He said the associated construction on new lanes and inspection booths would have come to a halt, and ports of entry would have returned to competing for scarce federal resources already stretched because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Rep. Torres Small said that since its inception, DAP has facilitated beneficial public-private partnerships between border communities and the stakeholders invested in their success. 

“This crucial program serves as an important avenue to make necessary improvements to infrastructure at our land ports of entry, like Santa Teresa, and maximize trade opportunities along the U.S.-Mexico border,” she said.

“I am proud to work alongside my colleagues in the House and Senate to ensure the continuation of this critical program.”

Sen. Heinrich said he is proud to have worked with business and community leaders to build public-private partnerships and secure millions of dollars in federal funds to facilitate lawful, international trade at New Mexico’s ports of entry. 

“We must remain focused on building on our recent successes, like those at the Santa Teresa port of entry, and make sure New Mexico’s vibrant border communities and growing ports of entry have the resources they need to thrive,” Heinrich said. “I will keep fighting to secure forward-looking infrastructure investments in every corner of New Mexico.”

Rep. Hurd said cross-border trade is the lifeblood of many communities in his district, which takes in over 800 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border, more than any other Member of Congress.

“The Donation Acceptance Program is vital for infrastructure improvements at ports of entry that will in turn create jobs, reduce arduous border wait times and facilitate the flow of goods and services through the region,” Hurd said.

“I’m proud to join my colleagues in reauthorizing this program, which will have a huge economic impact on the hardworking folks in our communities along the border and the surrounding areas who rely on ports of entry to feed and care for their families.”

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows Sergio Contreras, chairman of the Border Trade Alliance.

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