“We must work together” was the mantra at the “Border Communities: Issues, Ideas and Initiatives” breakfast and panel discussion on April 11. “No mayor, no rabbi, no priest can address border issues alone,” said Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson, as an introduction to the panel. “Many small steps must be taken to address societal issues such as addiction, refugees and violence. If we pull together we can address these issues.”
Moderated by Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, the panel of three Southern Arizona mayors and Ricardo Pineda, consul of the Mexican Consulate in Tucson, mostly focused on economic cooperation. “I go to Washington and speak about border communities and Mexico, the economic benefit” of their cooperation, Rothschild told around 100 people at the Tucson Jewish Community Center. The event was sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona.
“There are 14 million inhabitants on both sides of the border and $510 billion in trade annually between Mexico and the United States,” said Pineda. “Sometimes those in D.C. don’t understand what’s happening on the border. There are more successes than trouble.”
For example, there are “100,000 Mexican students in U.S. universities. The United States sends 15,000 students to Mexico,” he noted. “Our connection is human, scientific, educational and economic. More than one million U.S. citizens live in Mexico now. We’re highly intertwined.”
Immigration reform affects both countries. “Twenty million Mexican people live in the United States. Thirteen million were born in Mexico and 6 million were born in the United States,” Pineda continued. “But the window closed in the last 20 years to legalize immigration. [In contrast], if a Peruvian comes to Mexico he can become a citizen in 48 hours.”
Maurice Goldman, a local immigration attorney, would like to see a greater ability to cross legally into the United States. “You can’t get legal visas,” he told the AJP at the April 11 event. “It’s so stringent. You make one mistake and it affects your whole life.”
Generally, the United States allows 85,000 professional visas annually on H-1B visas, said Goldman. “For fiscal year 2015, the U.S. government received approximately 172,500 applications, more than double that quota in less than a week. There’s obviously a huge demand and need for these workers. However, foreigners don’t have the mechanisms to come here to work or be reunited with their families.”
In South Tucson, “which includes families living there for 100 years and those who showed up two weeks ago” from Mexico, said Mayor Paul Diaz of the City of South Tucson, “the unemployment rate is high. The vacancy rate is high. Survival is based on sales tax. We can’t provide services without it. I believe the solution to our challenges is employment. We’re also targeting infrastructure.” Diaz said he’s hopeful that two big employers will soon be coming to South Tucson, which will provide greater economic security.
Economic partnerships are important to the whole state of Arizona, said Mayor Arturo R. Garino of Nogales, Ariz. “A $200 million port will open in September, increasing the daily number of trucks from 1,500 to 3-5,000 in the next year and a half. Instead of concentrating on border security, let’s use economic development to better relations with Mexico.”
Additionally, Garino criticized continuous talk about border security. “If you’re running for office, please don’t use the phrase border security. There’s nothing to secure there,” he said, adding, “You can leave your door open in Nogales” because the crime rate has decreased.
When an audience member asked how the Mexican drug cartels influence border issues, Consul Pineda chimed in. Border patrol has reported that when individuals attempt to bring drugs into the United States, “there’s no confrontation. They drop their backpacks,” he said. “Fifty percent of the drugs smuggled into the United States go to Tucson. There are a lot of drugs consumed in the United States. [Mexican dealers] supply the U.S. appetite for drugs.”
As the Mexican economy rises, said Rothschild, the immigration issue has changed. “We’re seeing fewer [people] coming across illegally, because of our recession too. It’s always been an economic as well as political and persecution issue.” The mayor added that he would like to tell Washington, “put your guys in customs, not border agents. That will help with our economy.”
Consider the “$7.3 million spent daily when 30,000-80,000 people from Mexico come through the Port of Nogales to shop in Tucson and Phoenix,” said Garino. “Nogales has over 500,000 square feet of warehousing being built now. Arizona has to be part of the global economy. We’re the sun corridor,” providing significant growth in trade between the United States and Mexico. Plus, he said, “as the Mexican middle class slowly rises, it helps us with immigration reform. We can help improve their quality of life. We should help our brothers do that.”
“I think I’m the token Republican here today,” said Mayor Ed Honea of Marana. “I see Bishop Kicanas and Rabbi Cohon working together. Mayor Rothschild and I work together. We’d probably differ if we were in Congress together. We disagree but listening to each other helps both of us.”