EL PASO, Texas (AP) - A panel of U.S. and Mexican diplomats, politicians, and business leaders have met in West Texas to discuss cross-border commerce, infrastructure investments and immigration reform.
The U.S. - Mexico Competitiveness agenda conference focused on the relationship between the U.S. and Mexico. The event happened Wednesday at the University of Texas at El Paso's campus, just across the Rio Grande from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.
"The truth about the border is not in Mexico City or Washington D.C. You have to come to the border to know that truth," said Mexican ambassador to the U.S. Eduardo Medina.
The event was co-hosted by UTEP and the Council of the Americas and focused on the economic relationship between the two countries nearly 20 years after the North American Free Trade Agreement was implemented.
U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke, an El Paso Democrat, lambasted the plan included in the Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill recently passed by the Senate that contemplates spending $46 billion on doubling the size of the Border Patrol and building nearly 700 miles of border fence, while the ports of entry, manned by Customs and Borders Protection, are understaffed.
"At a time with record trade between the two countries, with record low migration from Mexico, it does not make sense," O'Rourke added. Instead, he advocated for using a portion of that money to hire Customs and Border Protection agents to streamline the inspection process at the border crossings.
El Paso was recently selected for a Federal pilot program in which private or local government parties will help shoulder the cost of adding additional CBP agents to staff all the lanes at peak times in order to shorten the often hours-long wait times. The city decided a toll increase will help come up with the funds needed for the extra officers.
Among the conference speakers were Anthony Wayne, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, as well as U.S. and Mexican businessmen. It also included the Texas Secretary of State John Steen, Mexican Federal Congress member Javier Trevino. Council of the Americas Chairman John Negroponte organized the event.