EL PASO — Under the umbrella ideal of fostering a new era of bi-national collaboration between the U.S. and Mexico, the University of Texas at El Paso was once again home to the annual Border Security Conference.
This two-day event marked the 8th straight year public officials, politicians, scholars and the general public gathered to share concerns, progress, and ideas pertaining to border security and how the border should meet 21st. century challenges.
The conference was a joint endeavor of the University and the Office of U.S. Representative Silvestre Reyes (D.,Texas).
“It is terrific to have the opportunity to host this conference. It has been a great partnership with the congressman for years now,” said UTEP President, Dr. Diana Natalicio, “It affords us an opportunity to hear from people that we don’t normally get to see and hear. It also enables us to acquaint them better with what’s going on here.”
“We started the first Border Security Conference, back when the Bush administration was establishing centers of excellence in many different areas,” said Reyes, “and with the help of Dr. Natalicio we came up with the idea for a Border Security Conference, it took off like wildfire and the result was the designation of UTEP being the center for border security and immigration.”
The conference was divided into panels with experts focusing on topics ranging from building resilient communities, straitening bi-national economies, effective security measures, to the use of technology innovations to enhance border security.
Ambassador Ron Kirk, newly appointed U.S. Trade Representative, was the first keynote speaker to address the importance of bi-national cooperation, and the historic relationship between both countries.
Kirk’s focus was on the importance of maintaining efficient international trade policies. He expressed the idea that trade with México has been the strongest it’s ever been, “almost a billion dollar a day trade,” he added. Kirk also addressed the notion of how politics was only focusing on the deficit, when it should also be focusing on education and maintaining educational grants.
Reyes pointed out that politicians during election season seem to focus on potential spillover violence from México. He disagreed with the idea that the drug war that plagues El Paso’s sister city of Juárez may find its way here. “Those who live in this community know that we live in one of the most secure cities in the country, six of the safest cities are along the border,” he added.
An idea shared by Natalicio. “The impression that people have in other parts of the Unites States about this border region is really not an accurate portrayal of what it is like here, and so by having leaders and people who are taking positions of importance at the federal level see up-close and personal what’s going on here is always extremely helpful,” she said.
El Paso Mayor John Cook emphasized the importance of securing the border without “insulting” the sister city. He cited the importance of collaboration between the economies, maintaining trade and nurturing the possibility of a twin-plant concept, where countries share the responsibility of creating jobs and goods.
“We have such vibrant trade between the two cities and we don’t want border security to issues to slow that trade down and to make us noncompetitive in a global environment,” said Cook, “this is a fantastic place to do business.”
Assistant Secretary to the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) William Brownfield delivered the opening speech on the second day of the conference. Brownfield focused on the symbiotic nature of the border cities. “What happens in Juárez has an impact on El Paso, what happens in Chihuahua has an impact on Texas, and what happens in México has an impact in the U.S.”
Brownfield highlighted the importance of the Mérida Initiative, an agreement between both countries that assumes a shared responsibility. The Mexican government implemented the plan with assistance from U.S. agencies.
The formula was built on four basic pillars — first was the attack on organized crime, dismantling complex criminal operations, then the reconstruction of Mexico’s rule of law institutions, such as the police force, prosecutors, courts and correction systems.
The third pillar was a modern border, which permits legitimate commerce and freedom of moment and yet keeps out those who would harm the two societies. The forth pillar creates strong and resilient communities that would cooperate in pushing back illicit organizations.
The final keynote speaker was Mexico’s National Security Strategy spokesman, Alejandro Poiré.
Poiré explained why and how drug cartels fight for control. He said that once a cartel controlled the business of illegal activities in a specific area, corrupted the police commanders and local authorities and invested time and money in the distribution of drugs, a specific cartel could control all of the flow of drugs.
That is why the level of violence has grown in all the border towns, he said. These are the areas where small cartels grow and strive to control “plazas,” which are a collection of criminal activities in a particular area.
Identifying and neutralizing the top and second-level structures of these criminal organizations would stop the “plazas” from forming, which would serve to confront and ultimately bring down the large cartels along the border.