Glenn Hamer

Six million U.S. jobs depend on trade with Mexico. Arizona’s southern neighbor is our state’s top trading partner, where we export over $6 billion worth of goods and services across our shared border.

But if that shared border is known more for its bottlenecks and long wait times, then it creates a drag on our region’s economic competitiveness. That is why Rep. Matt Salmon and the other members of our U.S. House delegation deserve kudos for their recent letter to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson calling for a fair share of Customs and Border Protection staff resources to be directed to Arizona ports of entry.

Two major factors leading to inefficient, congested border crossings are staffing and outmoded infrastructure. At our state’s busiest commercial land border port, the Mariposa port in Nogales, the infrastructure piece has been addressed as part of a massive $200 million reconfiguration and expansion of the port campus.

But without proper staffing, a remodeled Mariposa stands to be an expensive white elephant, which is why a bipartisan effort to ensure that needed CBP officers are deployed to Arizona is so important.

While much of the focus in Arizona has been on security between the ports, a function performed by Border Patrol, attention should turn to our ports of entry, where proper staffing ensures not only more efficient ports, but more secure ones, where additional officers can clamp down on smuggling and illegal crossers, as well as move legitimate cargo into U.S. commerce more quickly. Better staffed ports make economic sense.

The budget deal reached in January to fund the remainder of fiscal year 2014 included funding for 2,000 new CBP officers for the nation’s busiest ports. The president’s fiscal year 2015 budget calls for anadditional 2,000 CBP officers on top of what Congress appropriated in January. This is an unprecedented level of hiring that is poised to come online.

It’s a positive first step, but our delegation now needs to be a squeaky wheel to ensure that Arizona doesn’t get shortchanged. There is a lot riding on more efficient ports, both for trade and tourism.

Mexican visitors spend over $7 million each day in Arizona, leading to an annual economic impact of over $2 billion. We don’t want those visitors who cross into Arizona by car from Mexico stuck in line when they could be contributing to Arizona’s economy.

Thanks to a favorable travel policy that allows Mexican nationals with a valid Border Crossing Card to travel as far north as Tucson without requiring additional documentation or charges when entering from certain ports, Arizona is well positioned to capture more cross-border travelers. The Maricopa Association of Governments is pushing for that policy to be expanded to apply to the entire state, meaning a family from Sonora with proper documentation could drive to the Grand Canyon without having to stop at the port and secure additional forms for an additional cost.

Our state’s proximity to Mexico is a huge economic advantage, allowing Arizona to be a logistics hub and manufacturing center where goods can flow back and forth to plants in Mexico. But unless our ports have the staff to take advantage of our geographic good fortune, we’ll fall short of reaching our international trade potential. 

Glenn Hamer is the president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.