D.C. trip puts border issues at the top of agenda
by Nelson Balido
I'd like to update you this week on the Border Trade Alliance's latest trip to Washington, D.C. where our delegation of board members spent a jam-packed day and a half visiting with Members of Congress, their staffs and agencies.
These occasional sit-downs with lawmakers and agency officials in the nation's capital help ensure that border issues don't get lost in the flurry of the other headline-grabbing issues of the day. Our senators and representatives have a lot on their collective plate, so it's good to take the time to remind them that facilitating legitimate cross-border trade and travel is in the nation's best interest.
Here's a look at the top issues we discussed:
Public-private partnerships for border infrastructure, staffing
Strained federal budgets leave little hope that the federal government will be able to construct new ports of entry or sufficiently remodel and maintain existing ports to meet today's trade volumes across the U.S.-Canada and U.S.-Mexico borders. Only by engaging private sector financiers and state, county and local governments can border communities achieve improvement in their area ports and corresponding trade throughput.
We discussed with Members legislation that would go far in freeing the creative power of the private sector and state and local governments in meeting the infrastructure and port of entry staffing needs of border communities by allowing those entities to donate funding or land for port improvements or staffing beyond already appropriated levels.
The concept was well received by everyone we met with, so the BTA will continue to pursue all available legislative avenues to bring to passage what we believe will be a transformational tool for border communities looking to positively change their ports of entry.
Coordinated Border Infrastructure program
The Coordinated Border Infrastructure program as included in the previous SAFETEA-LU highway funding legislation allowed for projects that: constructed highways and safety enforcement facilities related to international trade; improved existing transportation and supporting infrastructure; included operational improvements; modified certain regulatory procedures; and coordinated international transportation planning.
The CBI program is highly critical to border areas' ability to access federal funds distributed to state departments of transportation, but the program's future is in a precarious position.
As both chambers of Congress advance their own versions of a new highway bill, we are becoming increasingly concerned that the CBI will change in a way that could limit border communities' access to these important funds.
We discussed the importance of maintaining the program as well as encouraging Members to ensure that state DOTs be required to spend the dollars on border region projects.
Despite the continued back and forth in the debate over whether a long-term funding bill will get done at all this year, we remain committed to pushing for CBI's preservation.
Border Crossing Card travel extension
I've written previously of the BTA's call for legislation or a policy change in southern New Mexico that would allow Mexican nationals with a valid Border Crossing Card to travel north up to 75 miles if they enter the U.S. at a New Mexico land border port of entry. This would be an expansion of the current 25-mile limit and would bring New Mexico into parity with a similar policy in Arizona.
I am pleased to report that our meetings may be having an effect.
Already New Mexico Senators Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall have introduced legislation to expand the travel zone, and they have each visited with secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano to urge her to make the policy change internally.
But now southern New Mexico Congressman Steve Pearce has written to the secretary stating his support for the policy change.
This is excellent progress as the BTA joins public and private sector stakeholders in New Mexico's border region in the push for what we all believe is a needed shift in cross-border travel policy.
The BTA is the borders' voice in Washington, D.C. If your company or community isn't already a member, we would urge you to join us, as together we work to promote policies that encourage cross-border trade, travel and security.
Nelson Balido is the president of the Border Trade Alliance