trade and travel
Proposed rule change comes after years of advocacy for increased tourism and commerce in New Mexico border region
SAN ANTONIO – The Border Trade Alliance today announced its support for a Department of Homeland Security proposal to extend from 25 miles to 55 miles the zone in New Mexico that Mexican Border Crossing Card holders can enter without having to obtain form I-94.
“This is a tremendous victory for southern New Mexico and especially the communities of Lordsburg, Deming and Las Cruces that can now more fully participate in the opportunities for legitimate commerce that their close proximity to the Mexican border offers,” BTA President Nelson Balido said. “The Department of Homeland Security should be applauded for proposing to install a cross-border travel policy that is reflective of the unique nature of the southern New Mexico border region while ensuring that security is not compromised. The BTA will be giving the proposal our full endorsement during the comment period and we will be urging stakeholders from across New Mexico to do the same.”
Under existing rules, Mexican nationals possessing a Border Crossing Card are required to obtain form I-94 before traveling north into New Mexico beyond 25 miles. Obtaining the card requires secondary screening by Customs and Border Protection officers at the port of entry, resulting in costs and delays to Mexican travelers while diverting CBP resources away from more pressing inspections.
Las Cruces’ Erin Ward, a previous BTA chair, credited New Mexico’s congressional delegation and community and business leaders for the DHS proposal.
“This change is a long time coming,” Ward said. “Leaders from the local, county and state level have been urging federal officials for over a decade to expand the cross-border travel and shopping zone in southern New Mexico. Our members of Congress deserve tremendous credit for working in a bipartisan fashion to make this happen.”
The rule change would bring southern New Mexico into parity with Arizona. In 1999, the federal government allowed Mexican nationals with a Border Crossing Card entering at certain ports of entry to travel as far north as Tucson without obtaining the I-94.
Luna County Commissioner Jay Spivey said the proposed rule change “will mean that our friends in Mexico can now sleep in our hotels, eat in our restaurants, shop in our stores and visit friends and family in our area with fewer hassles than they’ve previously encountered at our border. This is great news for Luna County.”
Andres Silva, a BTA board member and the mayor of Deming, hailed the plan. “It has become increasingly rare, unfortunately, for good news to come from Washington, especially when it has to do with the border. But today’s announcement is evidence that with a united voice, border-area communities can be heard at the highest levels of government,” Silva said. “I am especially pleased that Democrats and Republicans have come together to develop a policy that will boost southern New Mexico’s retail and tourism business.”
The BTA’s Balido also commended retiring Senator Jeff Bingaman for his work. “Sen. Bingaman deserves special recognition for making this issue and southern New Mexico economic development a priority in his last year in the Senate.”
DHS notice of proposed rulemaking: https://s3.amazonaws.com/public-inspection.federalregister.gov/2012-19458.pdf
A column by BTA President Nelson Balido on the need for the travel zone change from February 2012: http://www.thebta.org/btanews/time-is-right-to-expand-border-travel-zone.html
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About the Border Trade Alliance
Since 1986, the BTA has served as a grassroots, non-profit organization that provides a forum for discussion and advocacy on issues pertaining to the environment, border development, quality of life and trade in the Americas. A network of public and private sector representatives from the United States, Mexico and Canada, BTA’s core values include a commitment to improving the quality of life of border communities through trade and commerce.
The Border Trade Alliance has written to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano urging her to support an extension of the zone in southern New Mexico where Mexican nationals with valid Border Crossing Cards can enter without obtaining an I-94 Entry and Departure record. Read the letter here.
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