Border mayors meet to discuss challenges
By Daniel Borunda \ EL PASO TIMES
(Tucson Vice Mayor Richard Fimbres was at this meeting, representing the City of Tucson. He cohosted the first meeting in January at the U of A Campus.)
A new group made up of mayors along the U.S.-Mexico border met Tuesday in El Paso and hope that one unified voice will grab attention from leaders in Washington, D.C., and Mexico City.
The gathering at the University of Texas at El Paso was the first official charter meeting of the U.S.-Mexico Border Mayors Association. The meeting coincided with the annual Border Security Conference at UTEP.
The co-chairmen of the association, made up of 17 mayors, are El Paso Mayor John Cook and Tijuana Mayor Carlos Bustamante.
Mayors said border cities face similar challenges trying to expedite binational trade, commerce and tourism while dealing with bad perceptions of lawlessness.
Cook said the association's top priorities are improving trade and reducing wait times at border crossings to accelerate commerce and travel without compromising security. "We are not just talking about the relationship between Mexico and the United States," Cook said. "We are talking about these border regions competing in a global marketplace. We have to compete with China, India, Vietnam, Cambodia and the Philippines and what better place than through a well-functioning partnership with the country on our southern border, Mexico."
Mayors said connections among border cities have economic benefits for the rest of the U.S. and Mexico. Juárez Mayor Hector "Teto" Murguía said that for every 10 jobs created in Juárez, two jobs are created in El Paso. Murguía said his city, with its large labor force and central location, is still in a position to lure industry despite a drug-cartel war that has left more than 8,000 people dead since 2008.
"Even with all the lodo, what we call mud, it cannot change the competitive edge we have in Juárez," Murguía told an interviewer.
Mayor Arturo R. Garino of Nogales, Ariz., said the association will give border cities a louder voice in Washington, D.C., than what they have individually.
On Tuesday, the association shared some concerns about cross-border traffic with officials from U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Department of Homeland Security. The group plans to meet at least twice a year.
Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima said the border economy affects economic development in cities away from the border.
"When Mexico prospers, El Paso prospers and so does Las Cruces," Miyagishima said. "It's a regional effect. This is an organization that is very much needed."