Members of the Border Caucus — Reps. Raul Grijalva (D-Tucson), Filemon Vela (D-Brownsville), Henry Cuellar (D-Laredo), Beto O'Rourke (D-El Paso), and Pete Gallego (D-Alpine) held a press conference highlighting the importance our border region has on the U.S. economy.
Exactly a month ago, the U.S. Senate finally addressed immigration reform. Their bill includes a pathway to citizenship for an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the country, and also further militarizes our border regions, mandating tougher border security provisions that need to be set into place before our current immigrant population can gain legal status.
The GOP controlled House, however, is highly unlikely to feel compelled to do the same anytime soon. Members sit in gerrymandered, largely safe conservative districts. Districts with constituents that know nothing about the border and want nothing to do with reform.
Almost entirely missing from this debate have been the points of trade and commerce, port infrastructure, and public and private partnerships. Members of the Border Caucus hope to educate their colleagues and the public about the importance of these issues.
“During the immigration debate, myths about our border region have been spread by those who have no connection to or knowledge of our area.
People need to rethink the border. As the representative for the district with the largest [area along to U.S.-Mexico border], I know the border region means jobs for the rest of the country. More than 400,000 jobs in Texas rely on our trade with Mexico. U.S. exports to Mexico exceeded our exports to Brazil, Russia, India and China combined.” — Congressman Gallego (D-Alpine).
“The border should be viewed as an opportunity, not a threat.
More than five hundred billion dollars' worth of trade crosses our ports of entry every year and that helps support six million jobs nationwide.
Rather than militarize our border, we should realize our full economic potential and invest those resources to improve and modernize our ports of entry. To remain economically competitive, we need to update infrastructure at our ports of entry and hire more customs officers to expedite crossing times.
If we focus on the positive aspects the border has to offer, we will grow our economy and create jobs.” — Congressman O'Rourke (D-El Paso)
“Our economy loses billions of dollars a year in revenue because of delays and outdated facilities at our Ports of Entry.
Rather than solely using taxpayer dollars, allowing public private partnerships would spur outside investment to improve infrastructure along our borders. Reducing border wait times could generate $7.5 billion from trade and 34,000 jobs over the next ten years, helping families and small businesses across South Texas.” — Congressman Henry Cuellar (D-Laredo).
“In the past decade almost 6,000 people have died trying to cross our Southwestern border. Approximately 2,500 have died just along the 350 miles of border I represent. Our uncontrolled border spending has done nothing to address the reasons people come to this country – it has just pushed migrants into remote areas where they die more frequently.
There is a humanitarian crisis happening on our soil, and further militarization is not the answer. We need to understand that true border security means humanitarian support, preventing deaths, targeting human trafficking, and keeping border towns the safe places to live that they are today. It also means oversight of law enforcement practices to prevent further human right abuses. Fiscally responsible investments in border security will protect our nation from real harm and help us refocus on our border as an asset rather than a source of conflict.” — Congressman Grijalva (D-Tucson).
“Trade with Mexico is critical to the economies of all states, not just those on the US-Mexican Border, evidenced by the fact that last year alone, the US had $500 billion worth of trade with Mexico.
For immigration reform to truly be comprehensive, it must promote this trade through investment at our land-based ports of entry. I have a bill, Putting Our Resources Toward Security or 'PORTS' Act, which invests billions in funding for much-needed upgrades to port infrastructure and 5000 new Customs and Border Protection Officers – the officers in blue who work at the ports. These are the kinds of investment that we need.” — Congressman Vela (D-Brownsville).
Other facts shared by the Border Caucus:
– In 2012, trade between the U.S. and Mexico totaled $472,933,986 billion — roughly $1.3 billion a day or $1 million per minute.
– 98.5% of Texas exports go to Mexico. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, 463,132 jobs in Texas rely on trade with Mexico.
– El Paso is the second largest southern land border port by value. In 2011, $87.9 billion worth of trade crossed the ports of entry between El Paso and Juarez, an 81 percent increase since 2009.
– According to the Department of Commerce's International Trade Administration, the U.S. economy loses $1.5 billion in output, $400 million in wages, $200 million in tax revenues, and 6,700 jobs due to border wait times in El Paso. Economic losses are projected to increase to over $2.6 billion in output, $600 million in wages, $300 million in tax revenues and 11,500 jobs by 2017.
Issues relating to immigration reform and the border have largely been discussed as social issues. It's important to discuss just how large their fiscal implications are.
Conservative members in Congress are costing us money. They are costing us the opportunity to foster a stronger relationship with our biggest trading partner, a relationship that would only continue to further benefit our economy. Instead, too much emphasis has been placed on border security. To the point where we have nothing to fix our broken immigration system but driven thousands of immigrants to their death.
No wonder so many disapprove of the job Congress is doing. 2014 is going to be a great year to express just how we truly feel as voters.