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Border walls useful in places, but not everywhere

It’s always exciting for me to see the impressive flow of trade here at the border between Mexico and the U.S. American-made products, both intermediate and finished, cross south to go to Mexican production plants and distributors. Mexican-made finished products and components cue at the ports of entry to enter the U.S. I look out my office window and I see U.S. truck drivers securing their loads to transport steel to Mexican plants. A truck from an HVAC company whizzes by to fix a heating system on one of the big production plants. The restaurant in my building is receiving a shipment of fresh produce, which will become lunch for workers generating products in the industrial park for Mexican buyers. I love watching the buzz and commotion of all of this happening at the same time. This cross-border commerce is creating better futures for millions of Americans and Mexicans.

Maybe this is why I am starting to get frustrated when people not living or working on the border continuously ask me, “How’s that wall going to affect you on the border if it ever gets built?” It is a fair and common question, given the rhetoric coming out of the White House and Congress about border security and the controversy surrounding funding for a border-long wall. I constantly tell people that in Santa Teresa, we share the same wall that stretches from west Texas to a point approximately 20 miles west of the Santa Teresa Port of Entry. It is tall, sturdy and imposing. There are lanes in the wall at the port that allow both commercial and privately-operated vehicles to go north and south into Mexico and the U.S. We have had this large structure for the better part of two decades, although the 20-mile extension of this wall west of the port was just completed with pre-Trump Administration funding this past year.

Walls are needed on the border to secure the legal crossing of people and goods between Mexico and the U.S. However, a wall does not make sense the entire length of the border, which is obvious to anybody who lives or works along the border. It is definitely needed in urban areas, to allow Border Patrol officials extra time to apprehend illegal wall crossers before they assimilate into a large population base where they can hide. It doesn’t make sense in the middle of the desert, where Border Patrol agents and sensors can spot illegal crossers and still have time for interdiction.

The federal government reports time and time again that most drugs and illegal crossers are coming through official ports of entry, hidden in vehicle compartments or carried by a crosser, not in unguarded areas that currently don’t have a wall. My office is located just north of the Santa Teresa Port of Entry. I work and travel all around the Santa Teresa industrial base with my staff every day. In my 28 years of working in the Santa Teresa industrial base, I have seen one person in my park who appeared to be illegally in the country, running across the railroad tracks with Border Patrol agents on ATVs in hot pursuit. There are not hordes of people in my region that are breaching the border and swarming into the U.S. Yes, there are hundreds of asylum seekers, mostly from Central America, who are approaching the border, but they are generally giving themselves up at ports of entry to the capable hands of the Border Patrol.

I do realize that certain parts of the border have a bigger problem with illegal crossers, and they probably need a combination of a wall, more personnel, and surveillance equipment. The newest technology is needed to stay ahead of the drug cartels. A static wall in many places is an anachronism and will pose no problem for the bad guys. Resourceful people, many backed by a lot of money, can easily go over or under a wall. Ultra-light aircraft and drones can quickly fly drugs over a wall and drop them in the U.S.

Ultimately, more boots on the ground has to be part of the security equation, and by boots, I mean more Border Patrol and Customs and Border Patrol agents on the border. However, deploying new agents is not that easy because they need to be recruited, selected, trained and then given their assignments. They also will need precious time to gain experience to fully carry out the duties of their job. It is impossible to allocate a bunch of money to deploy more agents on the border and expect that they will be in place next month, or even next year.

A sound compromise, not rhetoric, politics, or catering to a certain base is needed. Border communities were profoundly affected by the latest shutdown over the wall, and not just in terms of federal employees who were furloughed or didn’t get paid for more than a month. Many Border Patrol, CBP and other federal government facilities buy their water and electricity from local border municipalities and co-ops, most of which had to sell bonds to build this infrastructure. Through their customers’ payments, they service the bonds. If they don’t make payments on time to the bondholders, their bond rating goes down, thus making the future issuance of bonds more expensive, which is then paid by the citizens of those communities. Border Patrol and CBP facilities were not paying their water or electricity bills during the shutdown.

Border communities must get the message to both sides in the fight that security on the border cannot be framed in simple black and white terms, and policymakers need to work for the good of our nation.

Jerry Pacheco is the executive director of the International Business Accelerator, a nonprofit trade counseling program of the New Mexico Small Business Development Centers Network. He can be reached at 575-589-2200 or at