Today U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, along with U.S. Representative Steve Pearce, praised the Department of Homeland Security's final rulemaking decision to extend the current border commercial zone from 25 to 55 miles in Southern New Mexico.
In an effort to promote border commerce, Mexican nationals who have undergone background, fingerprint and security checks may receive Border Crossing Cards (BCC) and are currently permitted to travel 25 miles into the United States for a period of 30 days without obtaining additional permits. Today's announcement would expand the border zone to 55 miles, allowing cardholders to visit communities like Las Cruces, Deming and Lordsburg -- the state's three largest border cities.
The rule change comes after years of effort by members of the New Mexico delegation to extend the zone. Udall and then-Sen. Jeff Bingaman introduced legislation to extend the zone in 2011. They also asked Secretary of Homeland Security Napolitano to consider extending the border commercial zone through the rulemaking process, which she agreed to begin in August 2012. Bingaman, Udall and Pearce submitted a letter of support for the change in a September 2012 letter as part of the rulemaking process, noting New Mexico's zone should be extended to give it the same economic benefits of other border states like Arizona. Since joining the Senate in January, Heinrich has pressed the offices of Office of Management and Budget and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to keep this initiative moving forward.
"Extending the Border Commercial Zone to include additional communities in Southern New Mexico is a smart decision and I thank Secretary Napolitano for responding to our request," Sen. Udall said. "I also want to thank Jeff Bingaman for his work and longstanding support for New Mexico's border region. With this extension, we can focus our border resources on catching more dangerous criminals and drug traffickers while providing a key boost to our economies. Businesses, along with the support from local law enforcement, have sought this rule change for years to put our state on a level playing field with others along the border, and I am pleased that people will now be able to shop, travel and visit their families in New Mexico more easily."
"The communities of southern New Mexico have fought for many years to get this done. Extending the Border Commercial Zone to 55 miles will help businesses in the region, promote job creation, spur the local economy, and bring in more tax revenue for the state. I thank Secretary Napolitano for her work in seeing this through," Sen. Heinrich said.
"I am extremely pleased by DHS' decision to finalize the border zone extension for the state. This extension will strengthen the commercial and cultural relationships in our border communities such as Las Cruces, Deming and Lordsburg, providing significant benefits to the economy in those areas. We have been working toward this outcome with the state of New Mexico, local communities, and federal officials since 2011, and today's decision will provide great benefits for the people and economy of Southern New Mexico," Rep. Pearce said.
Previously, if Border Crossing Card (BCC) holders wanted to travel beyond the 25 mile zone, they had to submit to additional, often times duplicative screening procedures and paperwork, called a Form I-94. The rule change, which will be submitted to the Federal Registry today, will allow Customs and Border Patrol to decrease paperwork for officers and travelers, which will help redirect resources to target more illegal crossings.
According a 2012 New Mexico State University study, extending the Border Commercial Zone to 55 miles could result in $51 million additional yearly sales, add 343 jobs and provide up to $2.57 million in tax base local communities.
The expansion of the Border Crossing Card zone has enjoyed widespread and bipartisan support. In 2011, the New Mexico State Legislature overwhelmingly passed a resolution supporting the extension of the border zone (the resolution passed the House 64-0 and the Senate 37-0). The impacted counties, Dona Ana, Luna, Hidalgo, and Grant, have all passed resolutions in support of the effort, as have several chambers of commerce. The New Mexico Border Authority, the New Mexico Association of Counties, the New Mexico Municipal League, and the Border Trade Alliance have all voiced their support. Additionally, local law enforcement from the impacted county and municipal police departments, including Luna County, Hidalgo County, Grant County, Dona Ana County, Las Cruces, Deming, Lordsburg, and Mesilla, have written in support of expanding the zone.
Extension of the border zone to benefit commerce has precedent. In 1999 the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) issued a rule that allowed individuals to travel up to 75 miles into the state of Arizona to visit Tucson.