Life on the Border – Part II

On a recent trip to Matamoros, a Mexican city on the border next to Brownsville, Texas, signs of increased security were evident everywhere. The Mexican army set up control posts on every major artery to search vehicles coming from the United States for weapons. It seems that Texas has become a major provider of arms for the local drug cartels. Possession of a firearm in Mexico is strictly prohibited except for hunting rifles and .22 caliber pistols. But Mexican shoppers still brave the insecurity on their side to visit American cities and businesses on the border, taking advantage of a $300 franchise per person to import American goods.

In spite of the recent devaluation of the Mexican peso from 9.9 to 13.4 for each American dollar, international bridges into Brownsville are packed with Mexican shoppers looking for good deals. Our return took one and a half hour of waiting in line to go through U.S. customs which are stricter than ever. To make things worse, the head of DHS (Department of Homeland Security) Michael Chertoff plans to initiate a verification of tourist visas for foreigners returning to Mexico, a program that would take, according to him, only 5 minutes per person. There is only one little problem with this harebrained idea; given the huge amount of traffic coming from and going into Mexico, delays going in would be unbearable, thereby severely curtailing tourism and their welcome dollars.

The US-Visit program plans on forcing returning non-American visitors to place their fingers on a biometric device to verify their identity. The program would include legal residents who have every right to live in this country without going through additional vetting. Aside from this violation of people’s basic rights, the measure designed by Washington bureaucrats (including Chertoff) who have absolutely no idea of what local conditions are like, will in no way guarantee more security for our country. More than 65,000 people cross monthly into Brownsville through the three international bridges; most of them are Mexican citizens who either work here (legally or not), or who want to hunt for bargains. This additional delay proposed by DHS would severely affect businesses on our side, forcing many to close their doors in these critical economic times.

On a different note, some immigration agents need an in-depth training on how to treat Mexican visitors. Jose Luis recently drove up from Mexico City with his family to visit a relative in Brownsville. He had to present a valid visa for every person in the car. Obtaining the visa is no easy task, as he had to show documents proving that he was gainfully employed and had the means to pay for his stay in our country. After spending Christmas with his relative, he decided to continue to San Antonio to do some shopping. For that purpose, he requested the necessary permit from local customs. The lady agent of Mexican-American descent rudely denied him his permit, under the excuse that he didn’t have the necessary documentation, i.e. bank records.

Here is a middle-class Mexican citizen, accompanied by his wife and two children, who wants to spend money in our country, being refused a legitimate permit by the thick-headed custom agent. Jose Luis went back during the next shift and was treated with decency by an Anglo immigration officer who immediately granted the permission. We give too much power and discretion to our border custom and immigration agents; even if you come with all the proper documentation from Mexico, they can refuse to let you in simply because they are having a bad day. American businesses on the border depend on Mexican customers; they represent 40% of their total annual income. DHS is trying to kill the golden goose, refusing to listen to local politicians and businessmen. Does the same apply to our northern border with Canada? I wonder. Fortunately, Mr. Chertoff has only a few days left in office.

Born in Switzerland many years ago and now living in Brownsville, TX, where I teach special education in a local high school. I love my job and the challenges involved in making a difference for so many bright kids who struggle to overcome their disabilities.

I have followed education topics and international politics for the past 25 years and have lived in Europe and Latin America before settling in the U.S.

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