PHOENIX, Ariz. – The U.S.-Mexico border in 2014 was thrust into the spotlight when thousands of unaccompanied minors from Central America came streaming across the Rio Grande into South Texas in the late spring and early summer.
The child migrant crisis might have been the story that grabbed the headlines and had the cable news talking heads chattering in 2014, but for the Border Trade Alliance, the nation’s premier advocate for commonsense, pro-commerce policies at our nation’s northern and southern borders, there were many more issues that occupied our attention as we continued our nearly 30 years of work to promote policies that encourage secure trade and travel between the United States, Canada and Mexico.
For years now, the BTA has sought to work with the federal government to develop creative solutions to fund inspection agency staffing and border infrastructure projects in the face of ever-tightening budgets. In 2014, we made significant headway on this front as Customs and Border Protection signed agreements with the city of El Paso and a multi-stakeholder group called the South Texas Assets Consortium, or STAC, to use local dollars to help supplement federal appropriations to boost CBP staffing levels at ports of entry. The potential for further partnership with CBP expanded when a budget bill was passed containing language that allowed for improved infrastructure development. The year culminated with entities submitting proposals to CBP to participate in partnerships under the newly expanded framework. Despite the very real budget challenges faced by Washington, the needle is tilting in the right direction.
We took our message of the incredible potential of this new border funding model to Capitol Hill in the spring. With a delegation of our board of directors, comprised of top-notch border business and community leaders like McAllen International Bridge Superintendent Rigo Villarreal, Rio Grande Valley Partnership President Julian Alvarez, Starr-Camargo Bridge Co. President Sam Vale and Cameron County Administrator Pete Sepulveda, we visited with House and Senate members from along both borders and key committees and urged them to ensure that any new staffing under these public-private partnerships supplemented and did not supplant any congressionally appropriated resources. We also discussed the urgent need to pass a long-term transportation plan that reflects the infrastructure needs of the border regions, as well as our ever-present agenda item of ensuring that the calls for improved security does not swing funding too far to the areas between our ports, leaving behind the needs of the ports themselves, where legitimate trade and travel can get bottlenecked due to insufficient staffing and aging infrastructure.
Proving that the BTA’s insight is valued in the most respected policymaking circles, we returned to the nation’s capital in June to partner with the respected Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center for a daylong event featuring speakers from the U.S. and Mexico providing analysis on the hottest topics in border affairs. Under the direction of the House Border Caucus, the event featured elected officials, business leaders and top agency officials discussing the issues that are driving both nations’ desire to create a more economically competitive U.S.-Mexico border.
But the BTA’s policy agenda took us to areas far beyond Washington in 2014. On one day our chairman, San Antonio executive Jesse Hereford, would be speaking at a high-profile automotive logistics conference in Detroit, and the next he’d be back in Texas to testify at a legislative hearing. All of our board members are outstanding advocates for better trade processes and are always willing to go above and beyond for better borders. Whether it’s hosting a meeting of key stakeholders in their local community or jetting off to Mexico City for a visit with the U.S. ambassador, as we did in August, the message of trade is one the BTA spread far and wide in 2014.
Custom processes, transportation, security protocols, infrastructure and a host of other issues will continue to keep us busy in the coming year. In the NAFTA capitals, the BTA is the voice of trade.
As we saw in 2014, the border will always present challenges that will, unfortunately encourage some to demagogue and score easy political points. But for the Border Trade Alliance, our borders are regions of dynamic economic opportunity that unite the people of North America. In 2015, we’ll continue our work to grow our economies through trade and commerce.
Noe García, III, is the president of the Border Trade Alliance.