MISSION, RGV – U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar has won praise for his efforts to strengthen partnerships between the United States and Mexico through additional language in the Fiscal Year 2016 omnibus appropriations bill.

Border Trade Alliance Chairman Russ Jones said the legislation, which has been signed into law by President Obama, has numerous provisions to increase cooperation between the two countries.

Russ Jones
Russ Jones

“The Border Trade Alliance thanks Rep. Cuellar for his continued commitment to an always-improving cross-border relationship between the United States and Mexico,” Jones said. “We share Representative Cuellar’s belief that there is room for improvement in our cross-border trade and transportation environments, and we support the important border-related items he worked so hard to insert into the appropriations package. Border communities from San Diego to Brownsville are fortunate to have Rep. Cuellar fighting for them.”

Mexican Ambassador Dr. Miguel Basáñez Ebergenyi agreed.

“The Government of Mexico highly values its collaboration with the U.S. Congress in areas of interest for both our countries such as increasing the well-being, the security of our communities and strengthening our privileged relationship,” Basáñez Ebergenyi said.

“This collaboration is especially relevant in our common border, particularly as it relates to infrastructure and improving the efficiency in commerce and trade that benefits both Mexico and the U.S. It ultimately strengthens the North America region making it the most competitive in the world. In this regard, the provisions introduced by Congressman Cuellar coincide with the positive vision of what the border should be and contribute to the binational efforts in place aimed at achieving this common objective.”

Miguel Basáñez Ebergenyi
Miguel Basáñez Ebergenyi

Cuellar spoke to reporters in his Mission district office recently about the success he had in getting language included in the omnibus appropriations bill to strengthen U.S.-Mexico relations. Here are the provisions:

•U.S.-Mexico Agricultural Cooperation: a provision establishing a working group between the U.S. and Mexico to help facilitate and ease cross border commerce. The intent of this provision is to increase efficiency in the inspection process, on both sides of the border, in order to reduce wait times at ports of entry and reduce transportation costs.

•Highlighting Common Security Interest of Mexico and Central America: language makes clear that drug trafficking is a major source of violence and creates instability. It underlines the role the Department of Defense plays in combating drug trafficking and the benefits the Department provides to the U.S., Mexico, and Central America.

• Cooperation with Mexico: language urging the Department of Homeland Security to work in a more formal way with Mexican authorities, such as the use of cross-border working groups, in order to facilitate the development of common and complementary approaches in areas of mutual interest such as border infrastructure, immigration enforcement, trade facilitation, and violence prevention.
•Cross-border Violence: language directing Immigration and Customs Enforcement to work with the Attorney General’s office to assess cross-border violence and provide recommendations for additional resources needed to track and investigate cross-border violence where it occurs.

•EPA State and Tribal Assistance Grants: included $10 million for environmental programs along the U.S. Mexico border. This funding comes in the form of grants from the Environmental Protection Agency and is specifically focused on water and wastewater projects within 62 miles of either side of the border.
•Migrant Workers: included language underscoring the importance of protection standards for agricultural workers, especially migrant farm workers, children who work on farms, and pesticide handlers and urges the Department of the Interior to work with the Department of Agriculture, farmers, farm workers, industry, and other stakeholders to update these standards.
•Providing funding for security assistance to Mexico: language included to make sure the omnibus appropriation included funding above the President’s budget request to assist Mexico as it works to secure its nation and borders.

•Academic Exchanges with Mexico: included language underscoring the importance of academic exchanges at the high school, college, and post graduate level and calls for the expansion of such exchanges between the U.S. and Mexico.
•Exchanges with Mexico and Central America: included language calling on the Department of State to continue supporting cultural exchange programs, as well as academic exchange programs, with Mexico and other countries in Central and South America. The language specifically calls on the State Department to increase opportunities for students from disadvantaged backgrounds or populations that have been historically underserved.
•Foreign Military Financing: secured $7 million in foreign military grant assistance for Mexico.

•Microenterprise and Microfinance: secured language to include Mexico and Central America in the $265 million microenterprise and microfinance program which targets poor communities and assists them in financial services that allow them to save, borrow, and access insurance, remittances, and other key services.
•Economic Support Fund – Mexico: secured $39 million for Mexico to assist with programs promoting good governance, civil society, education, private sector competitiveness and economic growth, including to improve U.S.-Mexico trade and investment.

 •International Military Education and Training: secured funding for Military Education and Training in Mexico at “not less” than $1.5 million.

•North American Development Bank: secured $10 million in new money for the North American Development Bank. The NADB is a joint effort to preserve and enhance conditions and the quality of life for people living along the U.S.-Mexico border. In the past, the NADB has funded water and wastewater services in colonias in South Texas.
• U.S.–Mexico Passenger Rail: included a provision requiring the Department of Transportation to complete a study on what standards and protocols are needed to facilitate passenger and freight rail between the U.S. and Mexico in order to enhance tourism and commerce between the two nations.

Congressman Cuellar thanked Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers of Kentucky, Ranking Member Nita Lowey of New York and the various subcommittee chairmen involved, particularly Kay Granger of the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, for their work in making sure the U.S.-Mexico provisions were included in the legislation.

“The relationship between the United States and Mexico is a long and special one, and one that deserves particular attention. Mexico is the United States’ second-largest export market and third-largest trading partner with some $1.4 billion in two-way trade daily. The United States and Mexico function as economic partners. Whereas imports from most of the world are foreign products, a full 40 percent of the value of U.S. imports from Mexico are made of content produced in the United States, according to the Wilson Center. This is compared to 25 percent for Canada and four percent for China,” Cuellar said.

“The relationship between our two countries runs deep and bridges commercial, cultural, and educational divides. There are close to one million Americans living in Mexico and 20 million tourists each year. Approximately 11.6 million Mexican immigrants reside in the United States, accounting for 28 percent of our nation’s foreign-born residents. The cultural ties between the United States and Mexico run deep as most of our nation’s southwest was previously part of Mexico.”

It is for these reasons, Cuellar said, that the U.S. must expand and invest in this relationship.

“Cross-border cooperation and collaboration has proved to be an ingredient for success, and it is all the more important that we continue to engage and partner with our neighbors to the south. To that end, I included numerous provisions in the recent omnibus appropriations bill to spur greater cooperation between the United States and Mexico. These provisions include everything from increasing the security relationship between our nations to providing economic support to providing assistance to develop microenterprises to promoting educational and cultural exchanges to establishing a working group to help facilitate and ease commerce across the border. I also added a provision requiring the U.S. Department of Transportation to study what standards or protocols are needed to develop passenger and freight fast rail between our two nations in order to increase tourism and commerce.”