About the Author: Arturo A. Valenzuela serves as Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs.
The expression "building bridges" is a poetic way of describing the work of diplomats: creating durable connections with other cultures and governments to ensure good communication, facilitate exchange, and span gaps. And then there is the diplomatic work involved in literally building a physical bridge.
On January 11, Mexican President Felipe Calderon, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa, U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Carlos Pascual, and other officials inaugurated the first new U.S.-Mexico border crossing in 10 years. The Anzalduas International Bridge connects Reynosa, Tamaulipas, with McAllen and Mission, Texas, in the fast-growing Rio Grande Valley.
The creation and operation of an international border crossing involves many agencies in both countries, from customs to environmental protection to highway engineering. The Department of State plays a key role in ensuring effective binational coordination. We can all envision what might happen if, through failure to communicate well, we did not actually meet in the middle.
Beyond its basic role as a link between governments, the Department of State works to expand and modernize border crossings because of their importance to the U.S. economy. Mexico is one of the world's biggest buyers of U.S. goods and services, and the total U.S.-Mexico trade amounts to more than $1 billion each day. The benefits of U.S.-Mexico trade spread widely across both countries. In fact, 22 U.S. states have Mexico as their first- or second-largest export partner. Most of those exports cross the border in cars, trucks, and trains, so new bridges mean greater capacity, more sales, and greater efficiency.
As Ambassador Kirk said at the inauguration ceremony, "[T]his bridge represents the most fundamental kind of trade: people-to-people transactions. I'm talking about Mexican and American families crossing the river to shop, to visit, to provide a service, or to get a meal -- to literally get a taste of the other side. These are the daily transactions that tie us together."
Anzalduas Bridge and its customs inspection facility incorporate the latest in design and technology to promote safety and efficiency. A modern facility like this enhances trade and security simultaneously. Anzalduas is the first crossing on the U.S.-Mexico border to achieve LEED Silver certification from the U.S. Green Building Council for comprehensive use of sustainable design and technology. Recycled, reused, and locally available materials were used during construction.
The U.S. and Mexican governments are working together to modernize and expand border crossings up and down the 2,000 mile border. A new border crossing will open in San Luis, Arizona, before summer, and another bridge in Hidalgo County, Texas, is on schedule to open later in 2010. The two countries are beginning work on a massive renovation of the San Ysidro border crossing between San Diego, California, and Tijuana, Baja California, which is known as the busiest land border crossing in the world. The United States is also dedicating $200 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stimulus package to expand the Nogales-Mariposa crossing in Arizona.
All these efforts aim to ensure that U.S. border crossings are as welcoming and efficient as they are secure.
Stay tuned @WHAAsstSecty.