We certainly need to protect this community and our country against the threats of terrorism, narco-violence, and smuggling. Border Patrol, Customs and Border Protection and the other federal and local law enforcement agencies are critical to our ability to do this. They should be commended for their service and their success in contributing to El Paso's designation as one of the safest cities in the United States.
But we also need to realize that if we can truly capitalize on this region's inherent economic opportunity, not only will we create more jobs, not only will we see greater sustained economic growth, but we will also see greater security gains made along the U.S. Mexico border and in our two countries.
More than 20% of all U.S./Mexico trade crosses through the El Paso/Juarez ports of entry, nearly $80 billion last year. In addition, Juarenses and other Mexican nationals spend over $1.4 billion in the El Paso economy each year. Those two economic activities alone count for, at a minimum, 50,000 jobs in El Paso according to the Dallas Branch of the Federal Reserve. A recent study by Cambridge Systematics puts the number closer to 100,000.
The threat to our region's economy, and therefore our region's security, is that we are not able to capitalize on this success and are in fact about to sacrifice this economic activity due to our inability to process people and trade through our ports of entry in an effective, efficient manner. Pedestrians and vehicles are often left in lines stretching up to three hours in 100+ degree heat, for the privilege of spending their hard-earned dollars in our local economy. There are examples of cargo waiting up to nine hours to cross on one of our bridges -- a wait time so long that the shipper finally decided to air-freight his cargo instead of using our ports of entry.
The Department of Commerce recently published a report that shows that if our long bridge-wait times persist, that by 2017 our economy will lose 11,500 jobs; $600 million in lost wages; and $300 million in lost tax revenue.
When we lose jobs and stunt economic growth, we lose hope and opportunity and create an environment where crime can thrive and security is jeopardized.
We can, and must, find a way to solve this issue. I have proposed staffing every single lane of every single port every single hour that it is open (right now, for example, the Paso del Norte bridge has nearly half of its lanes closed for business during peak travel times). I've also advocated for greater and easier adoption of technology that allows travelers and trade to securely cross our borders, services like SENTRI and C-TPAT and emerging technologies being developed right here in El Paso.
We have an enviable opportunity as one of this country's largest land ports. Whether it's economic growth or security, we neglect this opportunity at our peril.
- Beto O'Rourke