Jon Barela is the Chief Executive Officer of The Borderplex Alliance, a regional nonprofit organization that promotes economic development and prosperity in Cd Juarez, El Paso, & southern New Mexico
The dust from the 2016 election has not had time to settle and yet, the border finds itself back in the headlines as one of the president-elect’s first priorities when he takes office in January. And Congress is already reacting to his plans.
Years of inaction on issues facing the border, exacerbated by the rhetoric of the 2016 presidential election, have had serious repercussions on how people view it.
Blame has been thrown in all directions. The sad reality, however, is that no political party nor ideology has a monopoly on failing to lead on border issues. Having promised immigration reform in the 2008 election, the Obama Administration and the U.S. Senate and House whiffed on reforming immigration laws during their supermajority years. The Gang of Eight’s progress on immigration reform was stifled by partisanship.
Those of us who live and do business along the U.S.-Mexico border have been planning for what is next to repair our relationship with our southern neighbors, and quite frankly, the border’s reputation.
I am planning from experience. Until recently, I was New Mexico’s Economic Development Cabinet Secretary. I spent the last few years bringing investors to New Mexico and working with the business community to build an environment that led to job creation and an improved economic outlook for the state.
As part of our work, New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez and her Mexican counterpart entered into the first-of-its-kind master planned, binational community along the border. Since its announcement, it filled and created 3,000 jobs, 5,000 homes, and three million square feet of commercial and industrial space. Of course, security, on both sides of the border, remains central to this plan.
At my core, I am a businessman. I know what is needed to succeed. I learned that to ensure economic opportunity and security along the border, you plan and collaborate, not isolate and divide.
I now run The Borderplex Alliance, a three-state, two-country regional economic development. I have been tasked with selling the North American Borderplex to investors and businesses across the globe.
To say that the rhetoric surrounding the 2016 race has made my job more difficult is an understatement, but it is a challenge I am ready to confront by sharing our truth.
“The border” has become synonymous with a lawless land, crawling with a foreign criminal element. Yet, many U.S. communities along the border have a far lower crime rate than most American cities. Violent crime rates have remained the same or dropped in many border cities in the last five years.
It is not just that the border is safe. If anything, it is getting safer; just review the latest FBI crime statistics.
While the rate of violent crime across the country increased about 4 percent between 2014 and 2015, in El Paso it dropped by 7 percent; In Las Cruces, it fell by 9 percent.
This is not an anomaly.
For several years in a row, El Paso was named the safest city in the U.S. among cities with populations over 500,000. And we have constantly been ranked among the top three safest cities since 1997.
Even across the river in Juarez, where the murder rate spiked several years ago, the rate of violent crime has plummeted to what one might see in a larger U.S. city.
The story being peddled about a violent, crime-ravaged border is a myth. The data tell us the opposite. It demonstrates that our communities are safe and vibrant.
We are one of largest metropolitan border communities in the world, with one of the largest, bilingual workforces, three major research universities, three medical schools, three major military bases, and one of the biggest manufacturing centers in North America. We are a region brimming with potential; a place with a workforce ready to step into the jobs our politicians have promised to create.
We are hard-working people who live the reality of the border and immigration daily and know that the accusations being leveled at our world are far from accurate.
We are one of the largest border crossings in the country, with thousands crossing daily and tens of billions of dollars of trade passing back and forth every year.
The border is home to billions of dollars in commerce that provide a large share of the economic lifeblood of this country. More than $1 billion in trade crosses the U.S.-Mexico border every day. In 2010, more than 13 million visitors to the U.S. from Mexico injected $8.7 billion into our economy. A study released earlier this month shows that if trade between the U.S. and Mexico were halted, 4.9 million Americans from across the country would be out of work.
The fear mongering might be a good short-term strategy for some, but in the longer-term, it unconscionably undermines the ability for border regions to increase their economic competitiveness. Indeed, it undermines our national competitiveness.
I am here to lead the charge and change our narrative. By telling our truth and moving past the rhetoric, we will continue to plow forward to unify the region, create jobs, and elevate the North American Borderplex to national and international audiences. In short, we intend to position the Borderplex region as the “Gateway of trade for the Americas.”