Each time I travel to the border to visit U.S. importers of Mexican produce, I hear how much trade goes both ways between Mexico and the U.S., and how little the U.S. spends on infrastucture at the border.
For instance, the port in Nogales, Ariz., the Mariposa Port of Entry, is going through a $220 million renovation to be completed by 2014.
But fresh fruit and vegetable importers say the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency lacks the staff to effectively operate the border crossing now, and it may need to double in a couple years once Mariposa expands.
Truck crossings could nearly triple in two years.
But there’s no hurry for the federal government to increase spending there, as immigration politics often sucks the air out of the discussion.
This issue was one of several discussed at the America Trades Produce conference March 20-22 in Tubac, Ariz., hosted by the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas and the Texas Produce Association.
Of course, I boarded an airplane to go to the event, so I had a pretty good idea of where that extra money could come from to fund border operations, a group also in the Department of Homeland Security: The Transportation Security Administration.
You know, TSA, the men and women who make airplane travel so oppressive in the pursuit of terrorists.
A popular graphic was passed around in social media circles early this year showing what taxpayers are getting for their $60 billion spent on TSA since its founding in the months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
- TSA employs 62,000 people, and at the Washington, D.C., headquarters nearly 4,000 administrators average more than $100,000 a year in salary.
- It costs about $6 million for every gun TSA has caught, and none has belonged to a terrorist.
- Seven of every 10 weapons gets past screeners.
- TSA averages 900 complaints per month.
- Number of terrorists caught by TSA in 10-plus years: Zero.
In the Department of Homeland Security’s 2013 proposed budget of $59 billion, CBP’s share is about $12 billion. TSA’s requested budget for 2013 is $7.6 billion.
Budget to the border
Now I’m not a policy wonk or number cruncher, but I imagine the U.S. could switch airport inspections to private firms, save millions of dollars, give fliers better customer service and protection and spend a little more on making the borders more efficient — without increasing the budget.
Speaking March 23 at the conference, Margie Emmermann, executive director for the Arizona-Mexico Commission, showed the dramatic decrease in people crossing the U.S./Mexico border in the last four years.
“The biggest reason fewer people are crossing into the U.S. is the wait times at the border,” she said.
Adam Salerno, from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said the border should operate more like a Target store.
“If more than three people are in line, they open another lane,” he said.
Both government folks caught up in the gears of the bureaucracy and aloof Americans caught up in the illegal immigration debate lose sight of the fact that imports and exports, especially with Mexico, strengthen our economy and create jobs.
The Chamber of Commerce says Mexico and the U.S. trade more than $1 billion worth of goods each day.
Mexico shipped about $6.5 billion worth of fresh fruits and vegetables to the U.S. in 2011, by far U.S.’s largest trade partner in fresh produce.
At least the Nogales area is starting to find an audience in government that its border is big business.
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