By Lucia Bragg
Phoenix—NCSL's Executive Committee Task Force on Immigration and the States attended a site visit and tour of the U.S.-Mexico border in Nogales, Ariz., as part of its December meeting at the NCSL Capitol Forum.
Task Force members began the day on Dec. 9 with a working lunch and warm welcome from Manny Ruiz of the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors and Santa Cruz County Commissioner Bruce Bracker. Ruiz also serves on the National Association of Counties' Immigration Reform Task Force.
Lance Jungmeyer, president of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas (FPAA), described the importance of Mexico’s imports to the local economy and all 50 states. Members learned how the FPAA, founded in Nogales in 1944, works to ensure North America’s access to Mexican-grown fruits and vegetables.
Members came away with an understanding of the role of the Mariposa Port of Entry in this area—the largest port of entry for produce grown in Mexico, processing nearly 5 billion pounds and $3 billion of fruits and vegetables annually.
The Mariposa Point of Entry initiated a unified cargo processing system that saves 65-85% wait time for 1,000 trucks per day—a model that is being expanded to other ports of entry on the Southwest border. Attendees were briefed on the impact of transportation infrastructure improvements and border staffing on shipping efficiency and considered the economic impact of the produce industry. Visit this state-by-state interactive map to see jobs and exports supported by trade with Mexico and Canada.
The members went on to spend the afternoon with border patrol agents at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Tucson Sector Station in Nogales. Members first received a briefing and tour of the station, covering operations and processing procedures, followed by a tour of border barriers including fencing, levees and gates. The trip was educational, focused on fact-finding and myth-busting in the world of border patrol and protection.
The day was an important reminder that the work of border patrol agents is perhaps more complex and challenging than might be immediately apparent. These agents were kind enough to spend hours showing NCSL members a slice of their world few others can access. The group observed a tunnel from Mexico to the U.S. side of the fence that Border Patrol agents had filled in only three days earlier.
Members and staff drove alongside the fencing with agents, witnessing an alert and ATV pursuit of an illegal breach of the border. The group learned that one border infrastructure improvement that would make life easier for Customs and Border Patrol agents is new roads—allowing them to intercept drug smugglers, human traffickers and migrants in rural areas more quickly.
The group also learned that Border Patrol plays an important role in the public safety of local communities on both sides of the border—assisting U.S. residents in emergency situations such as the recent San Antonio active shooter incident, or retrieving and reviving migrants who vastly underestimated the true distance to their destination and conditions along the way. The CBP even distributes a flyer featuring a map displaying the true distance from 200 km south of the border to Phoenix so that migrants can realize how distant their destination is.
The agents provided the group with data on the amount of meth, fentanyl and opioids seized annually at the Nogales port of entry, as well as firsthand examples of common items processed. These ranged from harmful agricultural products that would cause extensive damage to native crops, to various drug smuggling paraphernalia, such as a fake Coca-Cola case hollowed out to obscure illegal narcotics. Attendees engaged in productive dialogue around detention centers as well, touching on the interagency coordination required between ICE, CBP and HHS to properly process and temporarily hold both adults and children.
A quote from Alberto Rios, first poet laureate of Arizona, was displayed at the Nogales Point of Entry pedestrian entrance:
“…We seem to live in a world of maps, but in truth we live in a world made
Not of paper and ink but of people.
Those lines are our lives. Together,
Let us turn the map until we see clearly:
The border is what joins us,
Not what separates us.”
Lucia Bragg is a policy specialist with NCSL's State-Federal Relations Division.