June 9, 2006

Border Controls Stir Business, Political Leaders

Dependent on cross-border tourism, a growing number of business and political leaders in the Mexico-US border region are worrying about the economic impact of pending US border security controls. One concern is over the Bush Administration’s Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) scheduled for a two-phase implementation beginning on December 31, 2006.  The measure will require US citizens returning from Mexico to present a passport or other accepted document. Until now, US citizens have typically shown driver’s licenses or simply stated “American citizen” to officials at border crossings.

In Coahuila state bordering Texas, business leaders worry that the new identification requirements will discourage some US citizens from crossing over to the Mexican side to shop, eat and have fun. Citing the high costs new passports could entail for large families, Evaristo Lenin Perez Rivera, the mayor of Ciudad Acuña, Coahuila, said the business community is “very worried” that cross-border tourism will take a plunge. Mayor Perez pointed to the May Day boycott staged by immigrant workers and their supporters as an example of how local border economies are fused. According to Mayor Perez, businesses in neighboring Del Rio, Texas, saw a drop in sales of about $300,000 dollars, while more than half of the 5,000 vehicles that normally travel to the US side did not cross on May 1.

Efrain Valdez, the new mayor of Del Rio, is likewise worried about how the future passport requirements will impact the border zone. “I don’t like this measure. I think it could be that the authorities don’t live on this border where things are very different,” Mayor Valdez said. “Another thing is that they’ve never asked us our opinion and don’t know how this could affect tourism along the border.”

Made up of representatives from Mexico and the United States, the Border Trade Alliance (BTA) has scheduled a June 14 meeting in Del Rio to discuss the WHTI. “We clearly support the efforts of our government to protect our borders from those that intend to harm us,” said Pete Sepul-veda, the president of the BTA’s board of directors, “but at the same time we should be on guard to assure that the implementation of new rules doesn’t cause excessive damage to our border regions and economy.” The June 14 meeting is expected to discuss a US Senate amendment approved last month that requested a 17-month delay in implementing the passport travel requirement.

Like their Mexican counterparts, business and political leaders in Canada are voicing alarm about possible, negative economic impacts of new US travel requirements, especially since very few US citizens hold passports. At a Montreal meeting held on Saturday, June 3, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities passed a resolution outlining the group’s concerns about the WHTI.

In Anahuac, Nuevo Leon, a town also bordering Texas, Mayor Mucio Mauricio Gallegos, contended that the deployment of National Guard troops could intimidate some people from traveling back and forth across the border. As in other US border states, the National Guard in Texas is expected to play a primarily administrative and logistical support role in border law enforcement strategies.

According to Mayor Gallegos, about 15 percent of Anahuac’s people currently work in the United States- legally or otherwise. “When (migrant workers) return on weekends, they pump life into everything,” Mayor Gallegos said. “That’s when businesses make money, when the restaurants are full and when people are out on the streets. Every weekend, there are dances, barbeques and happiness in the town.”

Reprinted from Frontera NorteSur (FNS): on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news Center for Latin American and Border Studies New Mexico State University.

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