The United States-Mexico border needs more customs officers, not more Border Patrol agents, according to a team of U.S. and Mexican researchers.
“At this point in time we’re at or past the point of diminishing returns in terms of Border Patrol staffing,” said Erik Lee, Associate Director of Arizona State University’s North American Center for Transborder Studies.
Lee made the comment at a presentation of The State of the Border Report, a portrait of U.S.-Mexico border communities in terms of security, competitiveness, sustainability and quality of life.
Lee co-authored the report with colleagues from the Washington D.C.-based Wilson Center and Tijuana’s Colegio de la Frontera Norte.
The authors say security resources are concentrated at the physical border — particularly between Ports of Entry — at the expense of a more strategic distribution. They argue authorities should focus on reforming the justice system in Mexico, and improving intelligence sharing between the U.S. and Mexico.
Nevertheless, recent reports suggest Mexico has been pulling back from security and intelligence cooperation with the U.S. since Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto took office in December.
Here are some other highlights and recommendations from the report:
The authors estimate that far less than 1 percent of illicit cash crossing the border is seized.
Nearly 70 percent of firearms seized by Mexican authorities and traced were originally bought in Texas, California and Arizona.
The authors argue that focusing on disrupting money laundering and arms trafficking through investigations away from the border could be a more effective way to improve border security than random vehicle inspections at the border.
Quality of Life
The report found improved well-being in the border region between 2000 and 2010, and a slight decrease in the quality of life gap between residents on the Mexico side and those on the U.S. side.
San Diego and Tijuana have the best quality of life of border counties on their respective sides. Three of the five Mexican border municipalities with the best quality of life are in Baja California (Tijuana, Mexicali and Tecate).
The border municipalities with the worst quality of life were Hudspeth, Texas and Manuel Benavides, Chihuahua.
The average unemployment rate in U.S. border counties was twice that of Mexican border counties in 2010: 11.9 percent (U.S.) compared to 5.8 percent (Mexico).
Education gaps are still large between U.S. and Mexican border communities. In 2010, 78 percent of U.S. border residents had a high school education, compared to 34 percent on the Mexican side.
The percentage of U.S. border residents without health insurance was twice as high in 2010 as that of the national rate: 32 percent compared to 16 percent nationally.
The report suggests strengthening student exchange programs between Mexican and American graduate students (something President Barack Obama recently said he planned to do).
Trade between the U.S. and Mexico supports some six million jobs in the U.S. and likely a greater number in Mexico.
Twenty-one U.S. states count Mexico as their first- or second-most important export market.
Nearly 80 percent of Mexico’s exports are sold to the U.S. Its top export is crude oil, but automobiles and auto-parts combined make up an even greater share.
Mexican exports to the U.S. are only partly Mexican. Because of the integrated production cycle between factories on both sides of the border, Mexican exports to the U.S. contain 40 percent U.S. content, on average.
Increased border security following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and China’s entry into the World Trade Organization combined to tank the growth of border manufacturing. Trade between the U.S. and Mexico grew 17 percent annually between 1993 and 2000, but just 4.5 percent annually between 2000 and 2008.
While enrollment in the SENTRI trusted traveler program has increased nearly four-fold since 2006, enrollment in the FAST trusted commercial shipper program has actually declined since 2008. The reasons are unclear. The authors suggest both programs be improved and promoted in order to enroll more participants, thereby speeding up border crossings and improving security at low cost.
Funding and staffing for border security between Ports of Entry (e.g., U.S. Border Patrol, border fencing and drones) is higher and has grown faster than resources for the Ports of Entry themselves, despite dramatic increases in trade.
Cross-border collaboration on environmental issues has focused too narrowly on pollution control rather than natural resource management and sustainability.
The border region is rich in renewable energy, but poor in transmission capacity and interconnections between Mexico and the U.S. (one exception is the interconnection between Baja California and California).
Although the North American Free Trade Agreement called for repatriating hazardous materials originating in the U.S. after use in Mexico, hazardous materials are not tracked and there’s no funding for enforcement.
Water conservation in the border region is imperative. The recent agreement between the U.S. and Mexico to ration Colorado River water and protect flows is seen as a big step in the right direction.
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