Expanding Border Zone

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The Maricopa Association of Governments, the city of Nogales and the Intertribal Council of Arizona are working together to expand the current border zone from its current 75 mile limit to the entire state in an effort to strengthen the statewide economy. Garrick Taylor, senior vice president of Government Relations and Communications for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry talks about the proposal.

Jose Cardenas:Good evening. I'm Jose Cardenas. Tonight on "Horizonte," a proposal to extend the border zone statewide looks to attract shoppers from Mexico. Also, we'll talk to the 2015 Arizona English language learners teacher of the year.

And in Sounds of Cultura SoC, learn about Opera Joven, a group of young opera singers with multigenerational and cross-cultural appeal. All this coming up next on "Horizonte."

Announcer: Funding for "Horizonte" is made possible by contributions by the Friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station.

Jose Cardenas:Good evening and thanks for joining us. The Maricopa association of governments, the city of Nogales and the intertribal council of Arizona are working together to expand the border zone from its current 75-mile limit for visitors from Mexico who have border crossing cards. Right now, anyone traveling beyond the zone has to get a special permit. The federal government sets border zone limits for Mexican visitors with border crossing cards. Joining me to talk about the proposal is Garrick Taylor, senior vice president of government relations and communications for the Arizona chamber of commerce and industry. Welcome to "Horizonte."

Garrick Taylor: Glad to be here.

Jose Cardenas: Tell us how it works right now and the history of the current 75-mile limit.

Garrick Taylor: We believe this proposal could do a lot to boost cross border tourism because if you are a Mexican national crossing into the U.S., you can travel as far north as Tucson without needing additional documentation or having to pay an additional fee.

Jose Cardenas:As long as you have this border crossing card.

Garrick Taylor: That's right.

Jose Cardenas:How do you get it?

Garrick Taylor: If you are a Mexican national, you will visit the U.S. embassy in Mexico or your consulate, such as in Nogales. In fact, over the last 10 years in those consulates, they've issued over 1 million of these border crossing cards, permitting entry into the U.S. Nogales, you can travel as far north as Tucson. If you were to enter in san luis, you would be limited to a 25-mile zone. This proposal that we're talking about this evening would seek to expand that zone statewide without the additional documentation.

Jose Cardenas: Now, the 75-mile limit itself was an expansion over a prior smaller geographical area?

Garrick Taylor: That's right. In 1999, the federal government agreed that the zone should be extended from 25 miles all the way up to 75 miles. Between San Diego and Brownsville, along the U.S.-Mexico border, the typical border crossing zone is 25 miles. Arizona has an exception, up to 75 miles to Tucson. In 2013, New Mexico was granted an extension up to the communities like las cruces, the idea being there's additional commerce that the Mexican traveler can participate in, in the farther reaches here. What this proposal seeks to do is say maybe the Mexican tourist should be able to access all that Arizona has to offer, whether it's the white mountains or visiting the grand canyon and what the Maricopa association of governments with support from planning agencies across the state have done is we're taking our case to the federal government and saying let's expand this zone.

Jose Cardenas:Do you have a sense for what the demand might be among Mexican tourists to go beyond Tucson?

Garrick Taylor: The University of Arizona was contracted by mag to look at some what if scenarios if we were to extend and we could see an additional $181 million worth of economic activity that could come into the state if the zone were expanded. Let me give you an anecdotal example. Each summer, our chamber, the Arizona chamber of commerce industry visits local markets around the state, large and small. Last summer or two summers ago I should say we visited Sholo, Arizona and we heard from the pine top lakeside chamber of commerce there that their ski season is boosted because of skiers from Mexico who are going north to ski in Arizona. If we can take that hassle factor out of crossing the border for those travelers, there's a chance that we believe we'll see a boost in cross-border tourism.

Jose Cardenas:The hassle factor is those people would have to get additional permission?

Garrick Taylor: So you've got a card, you've been vetted by personnel, we know who you are. You enter the U.S., you go through a primary inspection process and sometimes, a more involved secondary inspection. But if you tell the customs and border protection officer that you are headed beyond Tucson, it's time to get out of the car, go in the office and pay the additional fee and go through additional documentation.

Jose Cardenas:So there's a way right now for you to travel to the rest of Arizona, it just takes longer.

Garrick Taylor: There is and we're trying to find a way to eliminate that hassle. Unfortunately in the post-9/11 environment, the border crossing experience has not been the easiest thing to encounter for cross-border travelers, especially those on the U.S.-Mexico border. It simply takes too long. The border has been characterized unfortunately by long lines and long waits. We're trying to find a way to get the good guys out of line, the folks that we want to come and spend money in Arizona to stay in our hotels, eat in our restaurants and shop in our stores and find a way to facilitate their travel.

Jose Cardenas: You talk about post-9/11 environment, what about post-Paris and post-San Bernardino environment? I would imagine if there wasn't opposition to this proposal before, there may be now.

Garrick Taylor: It's a good question. We are living in an environment where obviously, there are certain members across the political spectrum who are quite sensitive to cross-border security but they should be. But here's the good news. If you have a border crossing card, you've already undergone significant scrutiny by the state department of personnel. You had to provide a biometric identifier. We know who you are so we feel confident about the security of the border crossing card and to ensure that we're doing the right thing here, we've proposed to the federal government that this border crossing extension should be done on a pilot basis. Let's see how it works. Are there security issues we need to be concerned about? If we can get this started in 2017, we could let it run until 2022 and see how the program works. These travelers are the ones we want to attract more of. We don't want to put up the stop sign at the border.

Jose Cardenas: So one question. We mentioned at the beginning of the interview that this is supported by among others the city of Nogales. Why would the border cities support this? If anything you would think they would stand to lose from these people coming further north.

arrick Taylor: You go back to 1999 and there was a concern, do we really want to support this? We've seen that a rising tide raises all boats. If you make the border crossing experience easier and more attractive, more people will participate in it. Nogales has a very vibrant cross-border retail sector and they've been able to continue to capture travelers in that commercial zone, and now travelers simply have more options. It doesn't mean that they're bypassing Nogales entirely but they're making purchases in Nogales and heading up to Tucson and maybe in the future they'll head up to Phoenix.

Jose Cardenas:So we're almost out of time. Tell me what the process is from here and give me a sense of a time table.

Garrick Taylor: Well, it's not up to us you're right. It's up to the federal government. When New Mexico had its border zone extended in 2013, it was by virtue of the department of homeland security issuing a new role. We could do this legislatively, members of Congress could get legislation passed and signed into law by the president or the department of homeland security could do that by rule. If that were to happen it would have to go through a long public comment period to ensure that views are being heard from across the border and in the region. And then it would be up to DHS.

Jose Cardenas:About 2017 at the earliest?

Garrick Taylor: That's the hope yes but these things do not happen quickly but we hope they will happen.

Jose Cardenas: Thanks for joining us on "Horizonte."

Garrick Taylor: Glad to be here, thank you.

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Garrick Taylor, Senior Vice President of Government Relations and Communications for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce

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