By Danya P. Hernandez Scripps Howard Foundation Wire El Paso Inc. | 1 comment
WASHINGTON – The contributions of the U.S.-Mexico border region tend to be overshadowed by the notion of overflowing violence and crime, when in fact cities along the border are among safest in the country.
That was the message delivered in the nation’s capital Wednesday, as border city officials gathered to discuss the reality and needs of the region. They spoke at a panel organized by the think tank NDN.
El Paso Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, challenged the political rhetoric about the need to increase border security.
“El Paso is the safest large city in the U.S.,” Reyes said.
According to rankings for 2010, El Paso is the safest city with more than 500,000 residents in the United States. The ranking was released in January by CQ Press, a publishing firm in Washington, D.C.
Among all cities, El Paso ranked 275 out of 400, when ranked from highest crime rates to lowest. Other border cities such as San Diego ranked 221 and Laredo, Texas, 144.
“We are very offended when we got politicians who don’t live in the border and want to tell us how they are going to secure the border,” Reyes said. “I’d like to remind people, like Speaker (John) Boehner, that you are more likely to get burglarized, raped or murdered in the cities that he represents in Ohio.”
Boehner’s district is near but does not include Cincinnati, which is ranked as No. 24 and Akron, at No. 47.
Reyes said the real challenge is not border security, but the need to modernize and expand the infrastructure of U.S. ports of entry. So far, most efforts have been focused on securing open areas between official entry cities.
About $2.4 billion has been spent to build a 670-mile fence along the southwest border, with an estimated maintenance cost of $6.5 billion over 20 years, according to a 2009 audit by the Government Accountability Office.
14th century solution
Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, said he has never been in favor of the fence, and called it “a 14th century solution to a 21st century problem.”
Cuellar said not enough attention has been paid to the fact that 40 percent of Mexican immigrants cross the border legally with visas.
The U.S. apprehended 61 percent fewer undocumented people crossing the border – 463,000 in 2010, down from 1.19 million in 2005. Cuellar said money is being spent in the wrong areas.
“Today we are limited, in terms of ports of entry, because it’s dated infrastructure,” Reyes said.
Adding inspection lanes for pedestrians, cars and trucks, plus more agents, at ports of entry would increase the ability to stop the smuggling of drugs, weapons and money going both north and south of the border, Reyes said.
That’s why he introduced the PORTS Act, which stands for Putting Our Resources Toward Security. Reyes said the bill would increase the number of Customs and Border Protection Officers by 5,000 and provide $5 billion for physical improvements over five years.
“It’s not just infrastructure on the U.S. side, because that would not make sense,” Reyes said.
The upgrade could benefit commerce and trade between the two countries, so they have to work together. Mexico’s Ministry of Foreign Affair calls it “a challenge we must overcome,” in a U.S.-Mexico Border Infrastructure report released Oct. 22.
“The trade between Mexico and the U.S. has grown exponentially, but our border facilities have not grown accordingly,” the report says.
Mexico is second-most important destination for U.S. exports and the third-most important source of imports. About 70 percent of border trade is carried by trucks