UTEP Hosts State of the Border Presentation

By Lisa Y. Garibay

UTEP News Service

Political, business, academic and social leaders gathered at UTEP Sept. 6 to discuss a report that presented vital statistics on our region and its impact far beyond this border.

“State of the Border Report: A Comprehensive Analysis of the U.S. – Mexico Border” is a joint effort by members of the Border Research Partnership, which includes Arizona State University’s North American Center for Transborder Studies, El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, and the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute. The report’s main goal is to provide a comprehensive, accessible look at the state of affairs in border management and the border region, focusing on the core areas of trade and economic development, security, sustainability and quality of life.From left, State Senator Jose Rodríguez, Diputado E. Gabriel Flores Viramontes, U.S. Consul General in Juárez Ian Brownlee, and Consul General of Mexico in El Paso Jacob Prado Panel discuss the “State of the Border Report.” Photo by Laura Trejo / UTEP News ServiceFrom left, State Senator Jose Rodríguez, Diputado E. Gabriel Flores Viramontes, U.S. Consul General in Juárez Ian Brownlee, and Consul General of Mexico in El Paso Jacob Prado Panel discuss the “State of the Border Report.” Photo by Laura Trejo / UTEP News Service

The presentation tied in with the 27th Border Legislative Conference in El Paso the weekend of Sept. 5 – 7, drawing many of the conference’s attendees to UTEP for an overview of data amassed by top research collaborations.

Erik Lee, associate director of the North American Center for Transborder Studies, and Christopher Wilson, associate at the Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute, opened the event by elaborating on the most critical findings within the report. Key to their messages was the fact that what takes place on the border has repercussions far beyond that geographic area.

One example had to do with automobile assembly. Due to constant border crossing of various parts from factories in both the U.S. and Mexico, prices are higher to accommodate the underwriting of lengthy and unpredictable wait times at border crossings. Those higher prices are passed on to factory owners and consumers. The economic impact was made clear through data that showed more than $1 billion of goods crosses the U.S. – Mexico border each day, or more than $1 million per minute. Optimizing this flow of goods and its related economic impact is critical for economic development — and a resulting higher quality of life — in both countries.

UTEP President Diana Natalicio highlighted this point in her opening remarks.

“I know that all of us here are eager to expand the potential of this 21st century border region, which offers such immense opportunity to rebuilding the economic prosperity of both the United States and Mexico,” she said.

Another compelling statistic referred to what Lee called “a point of diminishing returns” in terms of increasing the quality of border security through increased spending on the Border Patrol. He stressed that security needed to be pushed away from the border and within each country’s interior. This in turn makes border regions more attractive to the companies that are attracted by the kinds of resources on the border, yet are wary of the potential for crime that well-publicized increased border security portends.

Both Lee and Wilson brought up statistics proving that illegal border crossings have decreased significantly over the past decade while U.S.-Mexico bilateral trade has increased exponentially. Lee also reiterated that El Paso remains one of the safest cities in the U.S. despite assertions by mass media and politicians that the border region remains a threat.

The report can be read in its entirety here.

After the presentation, Borderplex Alliance Chief Executive Officer Rolando Pablos moderated a panel of leaders who discussed issues addressed both by the report and questions from the audience. The panel included Ian Brownlee, U.S. Consul General in Juárez; Jacob Prado, Consul General of Mexico in El Paso;  Diputado E. Gabriel Flores Viramontes, chairman of the Border Legislative Conference, Chihuahua State Congress and chair of the Border Legislative Conference; and State Senator José Rodríguez.

Rodríguez opened the panel urging a need for increased educational cooperation between the United States and Mexico, opining that the number of Mexican students at UTEP should be much higher and could be if crossing conditions were improved alongside other efforts.

Speaking for the state of Texas and how it fits in with national border efforts, Rodríguez said, “We talk about the importance of the maquila industry to our community here on the supplier side, we talk about the importance of commerce, but unfortunately we still, in my view, do not develop the policies that are much more proactive in enhancing our relationship with Mexico and in having an impact on federal policies that impede trade.”

He followed that up with a general comment about the report’s presentations, saying, “I noticed that most of your presentations are along the border. I would suggest that you go to Peoria, Illinois, or into the hinterland. Those are the folks that need to hear this kind of information, particularly the positive data, the positive side of life on the border, and the value that it adds to this country.”

Flores Viramontes cited statistics proving that there have been significant improvements in safety, productivity, and economic development on the Mexican side of the border after investments were made in schools, community centers, and other initiatives that improved quality of life.

“It would be helpful if you could get this word out around the U.S.,” he said, reiterating Rodriguez’s suggestion to raise the border’s profile.

UTEP and the Borderplex Alliance co-hosted the report’s El Paso presentation. Previously, the report has been presented and discussed in Washington, D.C. this past May; in Mexico City and Nogales, Ariz., in June; and in Tucson in August. The event was sponsored by UTEP, the Borderplex Alliance, the Border Legislative Conference, the Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute, and the North American Research Partnership.