December 9, 2013
Nathan O'Neal

TUCSON – Five U.S. Representatives met with local leaders today in a field Congressional hearing to explore how the U.S., and Arizona, can improve border security while fostering commerce with Mexico.

The bi-partisan group of lawmakers included: Representatives Ron Barber (D-Ariz.), Matt Salmon (R- Ariz.), Albio Sires (D- NJ), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), and David Schweikert (R-Ariz.).

The panel discussed how to ease commercial traffic from Mexico, at Arizona’s ports of entry. The hope is that in doing so, it will encourage more cross-border commercial business and even more Mexican nationals shopping and spending their cash in Arizona.

Nearly $1 billion is spent by Mexican nationals in Southern Arizona each year, according to the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s important that we do not lose sight of the serious security concerns that continue to plague Mexico,” Rep. Salmon said at the hearing.

Rep. Barber told News 4 Tucson that staffing and infrastructure at the ports of entry are in need of a boost.

“We have the lanes and we’ll have even more lanes when Nogales extends the Mariposa port of entry, but not enough customs agents. We have to do better, we have to increase those numbers and we have to do it soon,” Barber said.

Lea Marquesz Peterson, of the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce testified at the hearing. She told News 4 Tucson that additional agents at the ports could translate into shorter wait times at the border – both for commercial trucking and for Mexican nationals looking to shop in Arizona.

“If you’ve ever cross the border, from Nogales Port of Entry, you can see the trucks for miles. If you didn’t have that kind of congestion at the border, it might even make it easier for pedestrians to cross the border,” Marquez Peterson said.

Still, Rep. Schweikert, a Republican, said there needs to be more research into the ports of entry in order to better understand the root of the problem.

“We don’t have good data to tell us where our problem is, where our bottle neck is and what will make our cross-border trade even more efficient,” Schweikert said.

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