WESLACO, RGV – Texas Border Coalition Chairman and Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz testified before a hearing held by two Texas House panels on Tuesday.

They were the House Committees on Transportation and the House Committee on International Trade and Intergovernmental Affairs.

The joint hearing was held at Knapp Conference Center in Weslaco.

The purpose of the joint hearing was to hear testimony regarding a joint interim charge given to the two panels by House Speaker Joe Straus. The charge was to:

“Review the current state of infrastructure at Texas’ international shipping ports and border ports of entry in Texas. Identify transportation-related impediments to international trade and estimate the impact of those challenges, including border wait times, on the state’s economy. Make recommendations for improvements to facilitate international trade and economic growth.”

In his testimony, Saenz said TBC supports southbound inspections to stop illegal monies and weapons going into Mexico. However, he said the group is against measures that hamper the flow of legitimate trade. “TBC supports smart, effective enforcement,” Saenz said.

Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz, chair of the Texas Border Coalition, and Pharr Mayor Ambrosio Hernandez testified Tuesday, March 21, before a joint hearing of the Texas House Committee on International Trade & Intergovernmental Affairs and the Texas House Committee on Transportation.

Here are Mayor Saenz’s prepared remarks:

Mr. Chairman and members, I am Pete Saenz, mayor of Laredo and Chairman of the Texas Border Coalition.

I am speaking on behalf of more than two million Texans in 17 border counties of the 1,250-mile Texas-Mexico border.

Without a strong and growing economy on the border. we cannot have a growing national economy or achieve our security goals. Trade directly generates 30 percent of the U.S. economy, including 41 million American jobs – 3.1 million of them in Texas.

On the southwest border, we need to assure that our economic climate provides opportunity to the people in the region, state and nation. To achieve our economic security, we need well-built, equipped and staffed ports of entry that can facilitate legitimate trade and travel and interdict lawbreakers.

A series of studies in the last decade estimate that border delays are potentially costing the American economy billions of dollars – costs that are ultimately passed on to working families and businesses.

The combination of higher volumes of goods crossing our Ports of Entry and enhanced post-September 11, 2001 security procedures have led to longer wait times. Long wait times lead to delays and travel time uncertainty, which can increase supply chain and transportation costs. A report sponsored by the Department of Commerce detailed the economic impacts of border delays, finding, “border delays result in losses to output, wages, jobs, and tax revenue due to decreases in spending by companies, suppliers, and consumers.” The study detailed the causes, such as increased transportation costs for businesses and higher inventory costs for businesses to buffer against wait time uncertainty.

These delays create substantial costs to the American economy. The Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Congress finds that border delays cost the U.S. economy between $90 million and $5.8 billion each year. Alternatively, the Department of Homeland Security finds that reducing wait times at Ports of Entry by increased staffing with 1,000 additional Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers would increase economic activity by $2 billion and result in an additional 33,148 jobs per year in the U.S. economy.

Similarly, TBC is of the opinion that more economic activity and trade efficiency could result at Ports of Entry through increased usage of certified trusted carrier programs (CT-Pact), which could also include pre-cleared, certified-mechanical truck/trailer inspections, and utilizing dedicated fast lanes. Furthermore, TBC is of the opinion that wait times could also be reduced at Border Patrol highway check points, by increasing the number of inspection lanes, staff and installing state of the art technology.

It is important to understand the three key elements of Ports of Entry operations: staffing, infrastructure, and technology. The northbound inspection program is exclusively under the jurisdiction of the Federal government. I think everyone knows the importance that TBC attaches to an effective northbound inspection program – for which we currently do not sufficient funding for northbound inspection personnel, infrastructure and technology. TBC works with Congress and the Department of Homeland Security to increase the resources necessary to facilitate both security and legitimate trade and travel.

TBC is just as adamant about our support for smart detection and enforcement with southbound traffic. We must stem the illegal flow of firearms and currency out of the United States. We must increase the interdictions of stolen vehicles and fugitives who are attempting to flee the country; and we must augment compliance of export laws.

The Outbound Programs Division efforts include ensuring that CBP officers are trained to conduct outbound operations, have needed facilities, equipment, and technology and work cooperatively with international and local government law enforcement agencies to appropriately target violators.

Some of the proposals at the federal level for southbound traffic could bring gridlock to some of our ports if proper accommodations are not made. it is important Texas engage with our federal partners to plan for these changes – including new face recognition technology – instead of acting after the fact and hammering trade, security, and revenues.

Texas can help with southbound inspection activities by 1) improving southbound infrastructure to help facilitate inspections; and 2) using federal Operation Stonegarden money to fund overtime deployments of local and state law enforcement, under the supervision and management of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. We should be mindful not to erect an additional, duplicative layer of southbound enforcement outside the land ports of entry, which would be ineffective, wasteful of state resources, and economically harmful for our border communities. TBC supports smart, effective enforcement.

Interdependence is the way business gets done in the 21st Century economy, on the border and across the globe. Facilitating legitimate trade of manufactured goods, agriculture products and other goods, links the productivity and competitiveness of communities on both sides of the border and beyond. This creates jobs and prosperity that improve the lives of our people.

TBC thanks all of you for the opportunity of contributing to these important matters.