Happy Martin Luther King Day to all of you! The spirit of Reverend King’s campaigns to end racial segregation and bring racial equality across the United States plays out today in the binational world.
My feeling is that acceptance of differences—including skin color comes naturally for most of those who go back and forth, have family, friends, or business on either side of the border or on both.
However, from the borderlander perspective, what continues to this day is the
quest for equality vis-à-vis people and groups not familiar with the border or
who prefer to ignore it. There are deeply rooted negative perceptions about
who Mexicans or Americans are and what they look like. Profiling of this sort
perpetuates ignorance of the “other.” Fear and distrust are two unfortunate
consequences. When one adds to this the many asymmetries between our
countries—political systems, idiosyncrasies, religious beliefs, language, cuisine,
infrastructure, histories—It is hard to reconcile our two worlds.
So it becomes increasingly important for transfronterizos to come out of our
comfort zone and become ambassadors for the border beyond the groups we
normally communicate with. The new book El Tercer País, discussed below, can
be a powerful tool for all of us to help in enriching and rectifying perceptions.
With a new year come many expectations. 2021 is no doubt a year most of us
thought we didn’t reach fast enough. In the U.S. we have a new federal
administration led by President Joseph Biden and the first Hispanic U.S.
senator from California. In our region, we have opened the year with a new San
Diego Mayor, several new Supervisors and Representatives, and up-andcoming young councilmembers and chiefs of staff. In Mexico, we will see very
significant mid-term elections. Baja California will have a new governor in the
All this in the midst of the worst wave of the pandemic as vaccination efforts
begin globally. Our border is still closed to non-essential travel. But we are
hopeful that we will head into very different and more welcome circumstances
during the second half of the year once the vaccination efforts cover the
majority of the population by early summer.
Last week I shared Customs and Border Protection’s “Strategy 2021-2026”
2026) recently released to the public. This document distills clearly and in detail
how CBP intends to pursue its mission over the coming years.
CBP describes three goals: “Mission”, “Team” and “Future.” Under “Mission”,
the agency states it “must also collaborate with industry, other government
agencies, and non-government organizations to improve the risk assessment
process, integrate information sharing and adopt innovations in all environments
to streamline the inspection process and move people and goods as securely,
quickly, and efficiently as possible.”
This should motivate us to look for more ways to be proactive and creative in
our interactions with the agency.
Under “Future”, CBP tells us that “we will significantly expand usage of next
generation technologies like data and analytics tools to improve fraud and threat
detection, machine learning algorithms to provide proactive trade targeting, and
biometrics to enhance entry/exit border security.”
It is incumbent on us as stakeholders to ask our friends in the San Diego Field
Office about how these technologies will also reduce wait times.
At the very end of the document, CBP writes that its aspiration is “to be the
most innovative and trusted law enforcement agency in the world.” Currently,
we are seeing the implementation of “facial comparison” at all ports. It would
help to know of other innovations coming down the pike.
Mexican Customs (SAT) in Baja California removed local administrators in
Tecate, Tijuana and Mexicali the second week of January. This is not surprising,
as these decisions happen every few years. The question is whether it was the
best decision. Two of the previous directors, David Pérez-Tejada and Eva
Viridiana Soria are coalition stakeholders. Raymundo Jiménez was in Mexicali.
They were appointed by a former SAT National Director, Ricardo Peralta –now
Deputy Secretary of the Interior-- with the consent of Governor Bonilla.
The federal government typically states that these types of decisions as
necessary to make sure corruption hasn’t taken root. Due to customs duties
being in the billions of dollars every year on Mexico’s northern border, there is
a long history of corruption at SAT. However, we must be careful not to
generalize and call every SAT executive corrupt. There are many efficient and
upstanding SAT directors who are wrongfully associated with “bad apples.”
There are also many power struggles at the federal level that have a huge
bearing on what happens in SAT offices such as Tijuana. Many times decisions
are not made to clean up SAT but to install a new cohort.
The new regional coordinator for SAT will be César Reyna, an engineer by
training, who will oversee Tijuana, Mexicali, Tecate and San Luis Río Colorado in
Sonora. As of January 18 I see that Viridiana Soria has been named Tax
Director for Baja California, a state agency that is not related to federal SAT.
Border wait times have been one of the greatest headaches for many
travelers, but help is on the way. Mexico’s Communications and
Transportation Ministry (SCT) has built at least 6 towers all along the San
Ysidro Port of Entry every 3 lanes and 100 yards from the CBP booths.
Antennas and modems have been set up. They will be powered by solar panels.
The information gathered will be used to inform travelers of accurate wait
times, temperature and pollution levels and is intended to be part of a systemwide approach to border crossings.
For its part, the Local Development Council in Tijuana has gotten approval to
install WiFi readers on the Mexican side to gauge wait times.
And Caltrans obtained funds to set up infrastructure in Mexico to measure wait
times. This is all good news, and it will be helpful for all those involved to figure
out how best to complement what they are doing to the benefit of travelers.
Baja Rail and the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) continue to
discuss their divergences in terms of the Desert Line, with no end in sight. In
the meantime, yet another opportunity to move goods from our
“maquilatropolis” to the U.S. Midwest and East Coast is not living up to
A Desert Line story of how not to revive trade via rail seems to repeat itself
every few decades. San Diego and Tijuana need to get their act together. We
call on MTS board chair Nathan Fletcher and border-savvy board members such
as Coronado Councilman Bill Sandke and Imperial Beach Councilmember
Paloma Aguirre to help us better understand where we are headed.
I invite you to hear Dean Al Pisano of the Jacobs School of Engineering at
UCSD talk about the new Franklin Antonio Hall at the university
(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rO6Ejllvjtg). The building will open in 2022
and represents the cutting edge of a multidisciplinary collaborative ecosystem
designed to go from research to execution.
We will witness a similar approach at UCSD’s downtown campus which Dr.
Mary Walshok has tirelessly led, with a grand opening this fall. Please see
Mary’s enlightening article in the Union Tribune: https://wwwsandiegouniontribunecom.cdn.ampproject.org/c/s/www.sandiegouniontribune.com/opinion/comme
Our coalition has started our El Tercer País book campaign with media on both
sides of the border. We will continue telling the story that author Michael
Malone has penned based on dozens of interviews with border luminaries and
much research to document the 250-year history of our cities’ relationship. It’s
the first and only complete recounting of our shared story. Businesses, elected
officials, policy makers, and influential people will be receiving the book, in
English and Spanish versions, whether in its electronic, hard cover, or
This book should be a must-read for high schoolers on both sides of the border
and a primer for anyone wanting to start understanding the region.
I thank sponsors and coalition board members Steve Williams, Lorenzo Berho,
Jose Fimbres, Salomon Cohen, and Jose Galicot for their generosity in sharing
some of their book allotments with us.
If you are not aware of what the World Design Capital (WDC) contest is, I urge
you to find out (https://wdo.org/programmes/wdc/). San Diego and Tijuana are
working on a bid to become WDC in 2024. As stated in the pitch from the
Design Global Alliance led by MaeLin Levine and Scott Robinson, this would
“elevate the region’s reputation for creativity and innovation to the world
stage, and secure our position in the pantheon of other design capitals from
around the globe.”
In Tijuana, Laura Araujo of Tijuana Innovadora and Katalina Silva of Enigma
Creative are leading the way.
Cities such as Mexico City, Seoul, Lille (France), and Valencia (Spain) have been
recent winners. However, this is the first binational, dual-city gathering of the
world’s top designers, innovators, and civic leaders – drawing talent and
global influencers to our region and instilling great pride in our community. The
application is due at the end of March, and both cities are diligently working on
making this an optimal joint proposal.
The Qualcomm Smart Cities group, led by Sanjeet Pandit, should be targeting
the border as one of its new growth areas. We proudly count this great
company as San Diego’s most global, having more influence in the creation of
the smartphone than any other company in the world.
The recent stepping down of CEO Steve Mollenkopf has brought exciting
possibilities with Cristiano Amon, an experienced Qualcomm executive for the
last 17 years who has owned and molded the company’s 5G strategy.
Qualcomm’s A-to-Z approach for data has a huge role to play at our border:
from collection and sensing, to edge processing and analysis and 5G
connectivity, to data management, AI applications and smart spaces.
It is up to our binational community to attract the company and its array of
technology partners to what we see as a phenomenal opportunity to improve
the way we “border.”
We anticipate a boom in manufacturing growth for the binational region
during the next five years. As the prospects of foreign direct investment
increase, it will be critical to attract high-powered executives from other parts
of the world, not just Mexico, the U.S., and Canada.
A friend of mine who owns a highly respected accounting and tax strategy firm
in the area has told me there have been dozens of Chinese companies that will
move to our region in the next few years and are looking for Mandarin
speakers, preferably Chinese nationals. The companies have deliberately had a
low external profile but are actively seeking to set up operations in Tijuana and
Baja California as a whole.
Our Stakeholders meeting last January 7 introduced Rita Fernandez, the new
Global Affairs Director for the Office of San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria. Rita had
been Immigrant Affairs Manager for the Office of Mayor Faulconer, a position
that was introduced two years ago.
She is a polished public administration professional, having worked on
immigration policy for lawmakers including Democratic Los Angeles Mayor Eric
Garcetti and Rep. Juan Vargas, D-San Diego.
The office she leads is not only about the San Diego-Tijuana relationship. It will
promote San Diego’s global leadership, build new relationships with other
global cities and international organizations, and attract global business and
Another face in the public spotlight is the new County Supervisor Nora Vargas
(District 1) who joined us for our coalition board meeting last week. She is from
Tijuana and is the first Hispanic woman in a supervisor role in San Diego
She is not new to public administration, however. Nora was the first Latina
appointed to the California Teacher Retirement System (CalSTRS) board, the
first Latina vice president at Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest, and
the founding director of the City of Los Angeles Office of Immigrant Affairs.
She has appointed our Stakeholder Denice Garcia as chief of staff. Congratulations Denice for your new role!
Sara Jacobs, newly minted Representative for the 53rd congressional district,
and at 31 the youngest member in Congress, joined South County EDC’s board
meeting on January 12. She represents 750,000 constituents. She is keen on a
covid relief package and funding for child care and has joined the Foreign
Relations and Armed Services Committees. Good luck, Congresswoman!
Vincent Blocker and I met with new San Diego Councilmember Raul Campillo
and his Economic Development and Intergovernmental Relations Committee
Consultant Sophie Barnhorst for a very positive and dynamic meeting to start
connecting the dots between the border and the rest of the county.
Councilmember Campillo “gets it” and is eager to get the ball rolling with
Mayor Gloria and other potential allies for the “smart” border.
We salute the creation of the Burnham Center for Community Advancement
(https://burnhamcenter.org/). Tad Parzen will be its executive director. As the
new website states, this is “a brand-new model to improve our quality of life,”
where “good ideas are not enough: we’re here to get work done.”
I want to highlight the work of Steven Wright, a binationally focused
entrepreneur and well-known to many of us through his 4WallsInternational
non-profit (http://www.4wallsintl.org/). Steven has been working on a project,
led by Ocean Conservancy and supported by 4Walls International and research
partners, to reduce plastic pollution in the Tijuana River watershed.
Through a community-focused design process, the project will identify waste
management interventions to reduce the flow of trash at key locations on both
sides of the Mexico-U.S. border and will develop one or more financial
instruments (“The Border Impact Bond”) for potential investors to fund the
most promising interventions.
Our next online Stakeholders Working Committee meeting will convene on
Zoom on March 4th from 9:00 to 11:00 a.m. The coalition warmly welcomes
broad, open participation by all U.S. and Mexican (and all other) parties
interested in port of entry operations from any perspective. It will be the first
meeting of 2021. Please register in advance at: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZwpfCppzgrH9XMRRpHOQ5mDCNayoJ9XYHa
After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information
about joining the meeting.
It will be excellent to see all of you!
Gustavo De La Fuente