The United States has a lot to learn from the Borderplex region

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Jenny Villatoro
El Paso Border
El Paso, Texas: View of the U.S.-Mexico Border Wall with the Mexico border checkpoint on the Bridge of the Americas International Bridge in the background

In many ways, the Borderplex acutely experiences the hot-button topics that make for partisan rhetoric at the national level: immigration, relations between Mexico and the U.S., and trade.

The Borderplex Region is the 3-city metro of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico; El Paso, Texas; and Las Cruces, New Mexico. In many ways, the Borderplex acutely experiences the hot-button topics that make for partisan rhetoric at the national level: immigration, relations between Mexico and the U.S., and trade. They do so, however, with a spirit of collaboration and problem-solving that results in highly effective coordination and lots of regional pride.

When thinking of “the border” or “the borderlands” – those who live far from it may be surprised to learn that hundreds of American students cross the border every day to go to school, living in Juarez but studying in El Paso; or that many El Pasoans cross to Juarez to shop, eat, and visit friends and family. In fact, the border crossings at El Paso for January 2023 exceeded 140,000 people back/forth every day.

The area is also attracting a lot of investment, as near- and ally-shoring ramps up and companies look to move their supply chains to the Western Hemisphere. This was one of the main conversations at the Global Border Summit, hosted by the Borderplex Alliance February 2023.

Notably, the Global Border Summit was in fact quite global in nature – Consuls General from Mexico, Canada, and the U.S. participated, as well as the Consul General from the U.K. and former Prime Minister of the U.K., Gordon Brown, who gave the keynote speech.

Throughout the event there was a sense of pragmatic collaboration – businesses that operate in both Mexico and the U.S. standardize their hiring, training, and company culture across both countries. Government officials in both countries coordinated in creative ways to vaccinate over 30,000 people who otherwise would not have had access to a COVID-19 vaccine. Immigration reform was uniformly recognized as necessary – as current policies don’t work for the realities of our 21st century economy.

Key themes from the panel on immigration, moderated by Borderplex Alliance CEO Jon Barela, leaned into the spirit of immigration as a pro-growth policy, and to the rich history of immigration in the region. In 2019, immigrant residents just in El Paso contributed $8.6 Billion to the metro area’s GDP. The conversation highlighted how Congress’ inaction on extending a permanent status for dreamers coupled with green card and asylum backlogs are missed opportunities for our economy as a whole. Congress should also expand legal immigration to address the labor shortages across the U.S.

The conversation also included how practical and effective border policy has been sidelined by political rhetoric from those who neither live nor work near the border. Chelsie Kramer from the American Immigration Council shared that overwhelmingly fentanyl is smuggled via ports of entry, and usually by U.S. Citizens. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) statistics show that 95% of 2021 seizures occurred at a port of entry, and over a studied 6-month period only 3 of 89 seizures involved undocumented immigrants. Congress should embrace its role in effective border management, which goes beyond deterrence and physical barriers. Until Congress acts, policy makers should focus on the most viable immigration solutions to strengthen a system under strain.

As seen in the daily crossings in El Paso alone, the border is a vibrant area where effective management results in gains in education, trade, productivity, tourism, and more. The border is not a fixed point at which movement stops – but rather is a dynamic place and space where immigration, trade, and collaboration with our partners in Mexico lead to prosperity and growth – something the whole country could use right now.