Money needed to keep border open, secure

Freedom New Mexico

Drug battles in Mexico have been growing increasingly violent, and increasingly close to Texas’ Rio Grande Valley residents. Shootouts in Matamoros, Reynosa and other border towns are now being reported daily. It’s proper, then, for our border senators to try to secure more funding to improve our nation’s border crossings.

Both senators from Texas, Arizona, California and New Mexico — four Democrats and four Republicans — sent a letter last week to Jeffery Zients, acting director of the federal Office of Management and Budget, asking that as the OMB works on the 2012 federal budget it consider the need to improve the border crossings. Budget proposals will be submitted to Congress early next year.

“In this difficult budget climate, your office faces substantial challenges,” the letter tells Zients. “However, strengthening Southwest land ports of entry should be a national priority.” The letter notes that border officials have to check illegal flows of drugs, money, people and weapons between the two countries.

Even though Congress several times has called for dramatic increases for patrols along the border, the senators note that staffing at the bridges has remained below the demand for several years. Aging infrastructure also needs to be replaced and modernized in order to increase efficiency and implement new security measures, the letter states. Those new measures include inspections of vehicles crossing from the United States into Mexico, in an effort to reduce the flow of weapons to drug gangs in that country.

Increased vigilance using current procedures, however, would further slow the process and mean longer waits at the bridges. That could further deter casual daily crossings, and add to the woes of many U.S. businesses that rely on patrons from Mexico.

Activity on our international bridges has changed in recent years. Violence and the persistent recession have slowed casual traffic to and from Mexico, but commercial vehicle crossings continue to increase dramatically. The senators note that cross-border trade between the United States and Mexico in June of this year was $27.8 billion, 41 percent more than a year ago.

“Border commerce is vital to our nation, yet increasing congestion at our ports of entry diminishes our security,” the letter states.

Increased cross-border cargo means more commercial vehicles, and more merchandise, that need to be inspected every day. That gives officials two options: let more vehicles pass with cursory inspection or no inspection at all, or improve the equipment and staffing to make the inspections more thorough while making them more efficient. That requires money.

People can argue at length over the many services and programs the federal government has undertaken over the years, and that pull ever-increasing amounts of money from taxpayers’ pockets. The need for the government to keep our borders open and secure, however, is obvious.

Let’s hope the OMB chief gives the senators’ request the attention it deserves, and includes adequate resources for our border crossings in next year’s budget.