Time is right to expand border travel zone
February 28, 2012
If you're a Mexican national in the border region looking to make the drive across the border into the United States and you've got a valid Border Crossing Card, you can easily visit places like El Paso or Laredo, Texas (assuming you're granted entry by U.S. Customs and Border Protection at the port of entry) and move about the 25-mile border zone as you see fit.
Biometric Border Crossing Cards are issued to those individuals who have undergone background, fingerprint and security checks at their nearest U.S. consulate in Mexico.
With the card you can visit friends and family, take in a movie or a concert, or check out the newest restaurants, as long as you stay within the permissible travel zone, don't stay longer than 30 days in the U.S. and you're willing to put up with the likely long line to enter the country.
If you're a Mexican national looking to cross into Arizona via certain ports of entry, your Border Crossing Card affords you the ability to travel as far north as Tucson, where you can take in all that that city has to offer, including world class resorts and shopping destinations.
But Mexican travelers looking to visit southern New Mexico don't have the same options as other border crossers, causing the Land of Enchantment to miss out on the cross-border commerce other border states get to enjoy.
Because of the geography of the state, the nearest southern New Mexico population centers of Lordsburg, Deming and Las Cruces fall outside the Border Crossing Card's 25-mile travel limit. Travelers who want to make the trek to those communities are instead forced to secure a travel and departure record from CBP – form I-94 – which costs time and money.
For a practical example consider three Mexican shoppers: one in Baja California, one in Sonora and another in Chihuahua, all with valid Border Crossing Cards and all of whom who want to go to Wal-Mart.
The shopper in Baja California can find a Wal-Mart in San Ysidro, Calif. near the world's busiest land border crossing. The Sonoran can walk or drive across the border in Nogales, Ariz. to a Wal-Mart that is a mere 2.5 miles from the port of entry or head up to Tucson where he or she would have plenty of locations to choose from.
But the Chihuahuense faces limited options. They can head over to Cd. Juárez and make the crossing into El Paso or they can apply and pay for an I-94 at the port in Columbus, N.M. and head north to Deming.
New Mexico Senators Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall recognize the uncompetitive position their state has been put in by this travel rule and are doing something about it.
The two senators have introduced the Southern New Mexico Economic Development Act, which would expand the travel zone for Mexican travelers in New Mexico to 75 miles – the same limit as in Arizona. Sens. Bingaman and Udall have also written to and met with Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano urging her support for this needed policy change.
As Sen. Bingaman accurately says, "This legislation would encourage lawful border commerce, boosting economic activity in New Mexico border communities hit hard by the economic downturn and in a manner consistent with our border security needs."
In his introduction of the bill into the Congressional Record, Sen. Udall pointed out the broad support the legislation has behind it, including a bipartisan joint memorial that passed the New Mexico Legislature.
Changing the rules on the Border Crossing Card for New Mexico is the right thing to do. If DHS doesn't make the move administratively, then passage of the Southern New Mexico Economic Development Act is an idea whose time has come.
Nelson Balido is the president of the Border Trade Alliance