April 23, 2021
What will it take to lift current restrictions for “non-essential”
have been in place for 14 months? Last
year the number of travelers through our land ports fell by 38%. Both sides
felt the economic earthquake which continues to damage our way of life. Add to
this the opportunity costs of the missing new ideas, business, and relationships
smothered by the prohibitions on movement.
The binational region has failed
to move U.S. and Mexican federal authorities to act on the matter. Some
proposals consider any restrictions nonsense and demand immediate reopening,
whereas others ask for a gradual reopening. However, there has been no
breakthrough. There also seems to be a double standard: Why are non-essential
travelers allowed to go back and forth by air and not by land? Is it that there
are better public health controls at airports?
With the immigration crisis
taking center stage, any other pressing matters have fallen by the wayside. I
believe that it is in our interest to advocate with Vice President Harris, to urge her to give this issue the importance it
deserves. She is a Californian, understands the border, and has been given
great responsibility on the immigration front.
Let’s not leave the decision
only with the U.S. Department of
Homeland Security. Let’s help the VP succeed by connecting with her and her
staff and providing critical information on why opening is the best option. I
call on our congressional delegation, California’s governor, state senators and
assemblymembers, leaders and staff at the business and economic development
associations, the City of San Diego, and all relevant civic and governmental
entities to help our cause.
Our Coalition will attempt
to assemble some or all of these actors to promote a way to open the border.
Below, on pages 3 and 4 you will see what we are proposing as a first step. A
joint regional communication to VP Harris, CBP head Chris Magnus (if his nomination is accepted) and DHS Director Alejandro Mayorkas will send a very
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I want to recognize Alejandra Mier y Teran, head of the Otay Chamber of Commerce (
Notwithstanding AMLO’s energy
policies, IEnova, a subsidiary of
Coalition member SEMPRA Energy, the
company continues to place confidence in their ability to operate in Mexico by
acquiring the remainder of the Tecate wind plant they didn’t own. They paid $80
million to former partner Saavi, and
now own 100% of Energía Sierra Juárez,
a cross-border wind generation complex near the city of Tecate.
The complex has an installed capacity of 155 megawatts. The second phase already under construction will add
another 108 megawatts. The current
wind turbines electrify over 30,000 homes in San Diego County.
Increasingly, I am seeing nearshoring for software development,
and our region could be the epicenter for it if it plays its cards
right. Companies in San Diego and beyond are exploring setting up software
operations in Mexico, not unlike what we have seen with Thermo Fisher
Scientific’s software center in Tijuana (
These events are part of the new role that Baja California must play in a more interconnected North American
ecosystem. Baja could recast itself as a “creative
industries” hub, with activity in software development of course but also in
nanotechnology, gaming, film, and fashion.
Maritza Díaz of ITijuana (
So far, she has five operations
under her belt. ITijuana not only recruits software engineers to a
company’s specifications, but it also formally hires them on behalf of clients
and sets them up in Tijuana with proper housing.
trailblazer is Framework Science (). I’ve known the company’s two founders, Jesus Romero and Lonnie McRorey, since 2015 and recently spoke with both about
cross-border opportunities. As stated on their website, FS provides a proven,
proprietary recruiting process
automation algorithm that
mitigates risk and closes the gap on finding the right candidate among 1.5
million technical resources in Mexico, aligned to companies’ cultures.
They are visionaries who
have had great success out of their Tijuana offices, and they have expanded to
the Bay Area, Ensenada, San Diego, Monterrey, Guadalajara, and Mexico City.
They also call themselves a
Border restrictions were
extended another month. It almost seems that non-essential border restrictions
are on autopilot. Are we ever going to get back to normal?
Our coalition supports a
pilot at the SENTRI lanes in San
Ysidro or Otay to start asking program participants to upload their personal vaccination
information onto the GOES (Trusted Traveler) platform already being used at U.S.
Customs and Border Protection.
Our proposal is modeled
after what our friends in the Washington
State-British Columbia region are attempting to put into place.
This pilot project uses the
SENTRI program as a platform to test a health pre-clearance process for two reasons:
1) primary processing for SENTRI members ensures a touchless environment; 2)
SENTRI members can be notified directly and invited to participate in the pilot
To conduct this pilot
project, the following parameters must be met:
testing/vaccination standards (type, timing, and validity)
Add this component to
the SENTRI screening process.
Add afield for data
submission to the GOES (Trusted Traveler Programs) online platform.
applicants from non-essential restrictions.
The Smart Border Coalition
continues working with University of
California, San Diego’s Rady School of Management for a border dashboard of critical
information to shed light on border operation. This transcends the typical
research project, master plan, or white paper on border issues. It will, I hope,
approximate real-time assessment of our border. Rady’s Lab to Market course
students under Professor Amy Nguyen-Chyung
will be presenting their findings at the end of May.
The Border Fusion Group, Smart
Border Coalition, Tijuana Innovadora
and key leaders for the San Diego-Tijuana World
Design Capital bid met with SANDAG Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata to discuss the importance
of Binational Border Crossing Districts. These are binational creative zones
where a growing cohort of creative industries such as software development,
call centers, fashion, nanotechnology and others could coexist.
Young and vibrant creative professionals
energizing the contiguous U.S. and Mexican border districts in the region would
start dispelling the mostly negative images associated with areas closest to
our ports of entry.
The concept, in the
words of Border Fusion’s Miguel Aguirre
is that “by default, due to costly border-wait times, San Ysidro-Tijuana
cross border districts must become more effective vs pass-thru efficient. In
other words, if Otay Mesa is macro-economic, San Ysidro-Tijuana should be micro-economic and
more people-centered for wielding an International, strategic sense of
place. Such urban branding will attract global best practices investment,
creative industries, and a value-added innovation culture. By strategically
formulating the binational relationship where inherently it is strongest and most
authentic, our Mega-Region can become galvanized, more productive, and
economically secured in facing outside threats.”
It was the group’s position
that SANDAG must take this into very
serious consideration for any transportation plan. Indeed, the areas surrounding
ports of entry should also be destinations.
Ikhrata believes that the
border is critical for social equity and economic development. San Ysidro is
the second-largest mobility hub in the San Diego county. He is willing to work
with binational organizations to endow the border with the importance it
The U.S. Customs
and Border Protection Passenger Meeting met the week of April 12. Watch
Commander Alvaro Delgado of the San Ysidro Port of Entry stated that
pedestrian crossings were at 12,800 and vehicle crossings 39,000 per day.
In April of 2019 an average of 29,032 daily pedestrians
and 40,807 vehicles were crossing. So 2021 numbers are 44% off for pedestrians but only 4.5% off for vehicles.
This tells me that there are many more Mexican nationals who cross on foot than
in vehicles. Not too long ago, vehicle crossings were down 20-30%. Did U.S. citizens and green card holders
simply hold off from crossing for months even though they could and are now
doing so because the San Diego economy is opening?
“Emerging Stronger After COVID-19: Calibaja Working Group” led by the Center
for U.S.-Mexican Studies met for the 14th time last week. The
conversation focused on cultural economics and covid-19. I was amazed to hear incredible
stories of perseverance and resiliency in the arts that have been hit hard by
the public health crisis.
I was heartened to learn from Jose
Galicot that the Baja California Symphonic Orchestra has not stopped
performing since the pandemic began. I was astonished to hear that the Baja
Culture Secretariat has had 60 activities per month, has invested in a
digital platform that is here to stay and that there have been 30 new book
titles from Baja authors published in the last 12 months!
The San Diego Museum of Art expanded
its capacity to collaborate by creating a digital platform that has opened new
doors with the San Diego Opera and the San Diego Symphony. As one
executive commented, there is a
psychological aspect to art that we saw even
more clearly during the pandemic. “Art heals.”
I have been getting to know the
U.S.-Mexico Foundation (
The foundation has invited me to speak in the
Science, Technology, and
Entrepreneurship workshop that will take place on May 19, 2021,
specifically in Session III: From POE to Smart Borders from 11 a.m.-noon
Pacific Time alongside Juan N. Cento (Fedex), José Martín (IDB), the
Honorable Ken Roy (U.S. Consulate General in Hermosillo) and Tiffany Melvin
(NASCO). During the session, we will be discussing the modernization of ports
of entry with public-private partnerships, security cooperation, and ideas to
create a more efficient and effective cross-border partnership.
workshop has been inspired by the Mexico-United
States Entrepreneurship and Innovation Council (MUSEIC) –a mechanism that laid
the foundations of a binational network of entrepreneurs between 2013 and 2018.
During this binational meeting, organized by civil society and the private sector,
experts from both sides of the border will interact with other participants
about the diverse issues surrounding Mexico’s growing technology and
Rooney, director of the Bush Institute-SMU Economic Growth Initiative
at the George W. Bush Presidential Center (), and
I wrote an op-ed for the the San Diego
Union-Tribune this week about what the term “secure borders” means. The
Smart Border Coalition has collaborated with the institute for years, and we
find that it is an important voice for deep thinking and moderation that is
useful for policy making at the border. Our key idea is that the concept of
secure borders shouldn’t begin or end at the border.
Gustavo De La Fuente