“In order to get the Mariposa Port of Entry, it took a huge lobbying effort,” said Margie Emmerman, director of programs and operations at the Arizona-Mexico Commission, based in Phoenix. And while she says the Commission is “poised and ready” to fight for the additional staff necessary to accommodate the port’s ever-increasing volume, the situation is far from a done deal.
“We have been understaffed for a while, but there are things we can do with the resources we have to make sure trade keeps flowing, such as adding more hours during peak times,” commented Allison Moore, director of legislative and regulatory affairs at the Nogales-based Fresh Produce Association of the Americas.
But the real issue is getting decision maker’s in the Capitol to understand the border’s needs. “For a long time, when Congress has addressed issues about the border, they’ve thrown resources at border patrol,” Moore explained. “Many people in Congress, especially those who don’t live near a border or port of entry, don’t realize that customs officers are just as important, not only for border security, but for economic security as well. The big push right now is getting Congress to see that, overall, Customs needs about 3,500 more people around the country; and we need about 200. The real safety issue is an economic issue—it’s about two-way trade.”
Moore said close to 6 million jobs in the United States are tied to all forms of trade with Mexico—from wholesalers and retailers to carriers and inspectors across the country. Locally, in Nogales, produce and manufacturing account for more than 4,000 jobs and $2 million in wages. The value of two-way U.S.-Mexico trade just for Nogales alone is more than $3 billion for produce and $20 billion for all products. The total U.S. economic value for all two-way trade is a whopping $536 billion.
“We’re keeping the pressure on,” Moore continues, “talking to Congress, talking to the press, talking to the Authorizing Committee for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security—trying to help people understand why customs and economic security are as important as border patrol.”
Eight Lanes, But What About Inspections?
Following foodborne illnesses over the past years, including the 2012 recall of a million potentially salmonella-tainted mangos from Mexico and demands from major chains for traceability, food safety has become a critical issue in the crossborder produce industry. Part of the new port of entry rebuild includes an effort to expedite inspections, a process that has rarely gone quickly or smoothly.