EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — After a difficult year in which coping with the migrant crisis took up much of their agenda, border leaders in 2020 are turning their attention to trade.
El Paso Mayor Dee Margo, County Judge Ricardo Samaniego and Borderplex Alliance CEO Jon Barela on Thursday joined Mexican Consul General Mauricio Ibarra Ponce de Leon and officials from Juarez on a trade mission to Mexico City.
“This trade and diplomatic mission is pivotal to the continued success of our binational bicultural region. Mexico is Texas’ and El Paso’s strongest trade partner. It only makes sense for us to build on that foundation,” Margo said in a statement before departing. He says he expects this to be the first of several such trips to Mexico.
And in a few weeks, Margo and Juarez Mayor Armando Cabada will cohost a gathering of binational mayors. The 2020 Mexico-U.S. Sister Cities Summit takes place Feb. 26-28 here.
The summit “not only will bring some economic benefit to the city with hotels, people spending their dollars, sales tax revenue, etcetera, but the biggest plus coming out of there is being able to showcase our entire region, to showcase El Paso,” Margo said in an interview with Border Report. “We continue to find, especially what transpired last year with immigration crisis and our Aug. 3 shooting that we’re an unknown jewel and the more we can have people come and see and feel and taste and touch El Paso, the better off we are as a region.”
The last biennial Sister Cities Summit took place in 2018 in Guadalajara, Mexico. Thirteen mayors from American cities and 35 from Mexico attended.
Cabada said his staff has been holding meetings in anticipation of the Sister Cities convention. “It will be good to work with cities on both sides of the border on issues that affect all of us. Our Council members already had a dialogue with the El Paso Council to identify areas of opportunity and propose solutions,” Cabada said this week.
Respite from migrant crisis
U.S. Customs and Border Protection migrant apprehensions decreased by 5% in December as compared to November, and are down 72% since the peak of the humanitarian and border security crisis in May.
Last spring, El Paso officials worked closely with nonprofits such as Annunciation House and others to find temporary shelter for those asylum seekers CBP released. Shelter space was scarce to the point that some nonprofits were renting hotel space for their guests. Now, the shelters are no longer filled to capacity and asylum seekers are routinely sent to Juarez under the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program.
In Juarez, shelter space remains limited, but people are no longer sleeping by the dozens on the courtyards of the facilities. Migrant campgrounds have been cleared and more Mexicans than Central Americans are arriving to the city, according to Juarez authorities.
For the mayor of Juarez, the migrant crisis meant a $500,000 investment in food, supplies and security for the tens of thousands of Central Americans, Cubans and others who came with the migrant caravans beginning in October 2018. With most of those migrants now gone, settled on their own or in church-run or federal shelters, Juarez government and industry officials are now focused on boosting trade and reactivating the tourism industry, which took a hit due to longer wait times at understaffed ports of entry last year.
Dental and medical offices that rely on American visitors for a chunk of their income reported losing up to 30% of their business last summer due to the long waits at the ports of entry or fear that the U.S. government would shut down the border because of the onslaught of migrant families coming to seek asylum.
The maquiladora or foreign-assembly industry — arguably the border’s biggest employer, with 2 million jobs from Tijuana to Matamoros — depends on the swift displacement of assembled components from Mexican cities to transportation hubs in the United States. Keeping that commerce flowing is a priority to the border mayors.
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