February 22, 2021
Jaime González Luna Bucher, Smart Border Coalition co-founder, esteemed friend, and binational advocate for decades, lost his life last Saturday. A consummate binational entrepreneur and businessman, Jaime directed Bucher Industries, a company that offers contract manufacturing, logistics and warehousing and business incubation. He was also president of BOF Productions, a film and video company with projects in Baja California and Southern California.
He always found time to serve the binational community, whether as a thought leader during Smart Border Coalition launch meetings over 13 years ago, president of the Tijuana EDC, or vice president and advisor to Tijuana Innovadora.
Jaime always told me the Smart Border Coalition needed to work much more with a young generation of Tijuana and San Diego entrepreneurs starting to make their mark in business so that they could also understand the power of civic engagement for the improvement of our border. May he rest in peace.
As this is Black History Month, I salute African Americans who came to this region for a better life.
The San Diego History Center provides good insight about how Blacks came to the region. During the Spanish and Mexican periods Blacks
sailed with Cortez in 1519 and were slaves until 1829. Mixed-blood Californios were found at all levels of society. They had been assimilated into the population of Mexican-ruled California. In fact, Pio Pico, the last Mexican governor of California, was part Black.
Probably the most important Black success story of the 19th century in our region was that of Margaret and Albert Robinson, who in 1887 built and owned the Hotel Robinson. They operated it for 28 years. Today, it is known as the Julian Hotel and is located at 2032 Main Street.
There were a number of colorful personalities in the early 1900s. For example, Reuben Williams (a.k.a. Reuben the Guide) wore a Mexican sombrero, a zarape, and a sheriff’s star on his vest when he gave his guided tours. It was said that he always got top price for his tour of Tijuana. When he approached the Tijuana River he would stop his mules and tell his passengers: ‘Dollar tickets keep your seats, 75-cent tickets walk and 50-cent tickets push.’
I recommend concern but not alarm over the newly enacted federal law requiring a plan by this July to institute a whopping increase in the rate of vehicle and freight inspections at U.S. ports of entry.
Public Law 116-299, “Securing America’s Ports Act,” requires the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to “develop a plan to increase to 100 percent the rates of scanning of commercial and passenger vehicles and freight rail entering the United States at land ports of entry along the border using large-scale, non-intrusive inspection systems to enhance border security, and for other purposes.”
DHS is required to submit its plan to Congress through the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and the House Committee on Homeland Security, with estimated costs and projected impacts.
Many observers familiar with border movement will find increasing inspections to this level impractical and dangerously threatening to the host of cross-border activities dependent on the ports, in the present state of port capacity. But if we wade into the usual weeds of policy, practice, and politics growing
around virtually any border movement issue, it’s clear this legislation with its short deadline is not an axe ready to fall on border travel.
--In making this law work, the Biden administration seems very unlikely to ignore issues of border crossing fluidity. The act became law during the Trump administration.
Biden’s current immigration bill as seen on the White House website includes a section prioritizing smart border controls by “authorizing additional funding for the Secretary of DHS to develop and implement a plan to deploy technology to expedite screening and enhance the ability to identify narcotics and other contraband at every land, air and sea port of entry. This includes high-throughput scanning technologies to ensure that all commercial and passenger vehicles and freight rail traffic entering the United States… undergo pre-primary scanning.”
This tells me that the new administration is sensitive to crossing fluidity at the border for both supply chains and individual crossers. This sensitivity could translate into a revised act that could ask for a watered-down version or achieving the same outcome over a longer period.
--The potential short- and long-term effects on inspection times
are hard to forecast. At first glance, it would seem obvious
that gamma and X-ray equipment throughput can easily increase current wait
times. On the other
hand, today’s current lines are slow enough
that if a vehicle or truck had to be inspected as it crept towards the
inspection booth, wait times could conceivably not be affected at all.
Today’s gamma and X-ray machines cannot process a vehicle or a truck in less than 12 seconds. According to Leidos, a San Diego-based technology services and defense company, trucks can travel at four to five miles per hour while being scanned, and a typical scan takes about 12 seconds plus the time for the analysis an officer has to perform in order to decide the truck’s fate.
Imagine doing this for 3,500 trucks each day at the Otay Mesa Port of Entry. A 12-second wait would add up to 700 hours of additional wait times each day. For autos the daily wait would be a cumulative 20,000 hours at all our regional ports.
For pedestrians, let’s use airports as an example. When going through airport security, they must line up to get X-rayed. Just going under the machine takes 2-3 seconds followed by an officer performing an analysis and making a determination. Picture doing this 50,000 times each day at our ports. This adds at least another accumulated 1,667 hours each day to crosser wait times.
I am also certain that in six years’ time, machines will process people, vehicles, and trucks faster. By then, artificial intelligence, not officers, will make immediate decisions about travelers. So it is conceivable that by 2027, goods, autos, and people will be inspected in a fraction of a second.
--The act specifies “incremental progress” over six years to achieve 100 percent inspections. This is critical because it gives DHS flexibility to develop a system that can adapt to the land port environment, potentially avoiding modifying wait times or marginally affecting them. The time frame also enables CBP to make operational and staffing adjustments to avoid adding steps to the inspection process.
--DHS is required to estimate costs, projected impacts on crossing times, staffing, security, and operations at ports. If DHS presents data and models projecting prolonged wait times, particularly for cargo, U.S. industry with critical operations in Mexico will voice a loud and persistent opposition. Multiple border organizations will sound the alarm bells.
I was invited to make public comments at San Diego City Councilmember Raul Campillo’s explanation of the work program for the council’s Economic Development and Intergovernmental Relations Committee. Councilmember Campillo put together an ambitious plan that includes border-related topics (https://www.sandiego.gov/citycouncil/cd7).
Here are some of the items I like:
--His plan looks to promote cross-border opportunities and investments that encourage progress with Tijuana and Baja California.
--He devotes July through December meetings to the Border Economy and Trade Expansion.
--He wants to preserve banking and currency exchange services at the border. On a personal note, this is a question of compliance vs. equity! Unfortunately, there has been a lot of stereotyping of Mexican customers who open bank accounts and investment accounts in U.S. banks. Money laundering is real and always present, but what most banks forget is that most of their Mexican clients have legitimately built their wealth.
--For Trade Expansion and Regional Competitiveness, Campillo wants to attract a financial, entertainment, or technology firm to headquarter in San Diego. There is no question in my mind that the city needs to think much bigger than it has, as a first-tier city, and attracting a large firm to the county is a worthwhile objective.
Facial verification is now a reality at our pedestrian crossings. U.S. Customs and Border Protection believes it is an efficient way to process travelers. There is a chance that this system will be coming to the vehicle lanes. The PedWest Port of Entry at San Ysidro will continue closed to regular crossers and will become a place for Migration Protection Protocols (MPP, ) processing only.
With elections coming in June, Baja California water authorities need to move swiftly to put in place some permanent and stopgap solutions for the polluted water treatment problem.
Back in September of 2018, a San Diego Union-Tribune article on the matter stated that an Israeli company, Odis Asversa, would pipe in treated wastewater from Tijuana to irrigate the Valle de Guadalupe vineyards.
The $77 million project called for the construction of a sewage treatment plant to replace the San Antonio de los Buenos plant 6 miles from the border and a 65-mile aqueduct from southeastern Tijuana to the Guadalupe Valley. Well, we are still waiting for evidence that the company will officially begin its work.
It also looks like Tijuana will need water sources for this summer to avoid shut-downs. CESPT is busily drilling 7 new wells that should be ready by May.
The “Emerging Stronger Together” videoconference organized by the Center for US-Mexican Studies at UCSD focused on higher education, with Chancellor Pradeep Khosla of UCSD, President Adela de la Torre of SDSU and President Fernando León of Cetys Universidad leading the way. All see opportunities in the online education world, expanding global reach to Mexico, but a balance must be struck with in-class environments.
De la Torre sees systemic change created only through cross-border collaboration, with water, energy, environmental, and health issues seen as opportunity areas.
She added that bureaucratic hurdles back in the 1960s made it impossible to get dual degrees from U.S. and Mexican universities and that these hurdles need to disappear.
For his part, León emphasized capacity building, new formulas, and different financial schemes to attract students. Just as we are redefining work, student experiences in college and graduate school will change.
Also in the videoconference, Professor Olivia Graeve of UCSD pointed out her undeniable success in her research program: in 2019 she had 120 students. In 2020 it reached 1,300! So she wants to continue her in-person programs but continue with virtual offerings.
I predict that in no more than 3 months there will be an excess of vaccines in San Diego County. The question will be what to do with so many. So I advance
the notion of sharing the vaccine with Baja California. The county is not in a bubble, it is part of a mega region, as we all like to say. Well then, let’s work toward the goal of inoculating our region!
Tijuana and most Mexican cities will take many months to vaccinate the majority of their populations. There are almost intractable issues with supply and distribution.
A solution must start with Governor Bonilla talking to Governor Newsom. Forget about the CDCs for a moment as well as the pharma companies. Newsom has enormous leverage.
Private enterprise in Tijuana is willing to acquire the vaccines. We must never lose sight of the inescapable reality that the significant part of the our San Diego workforce residing in Tijuana, if healthy, means healthy hotels, restaurants, construction sites, hospitals, and schools in San Diego as well as healthy supply chains in Tijuana, Tecate, and Rosarito. The region wins.
For the Baja California private enterprise vaccination effort to work, there is a whole host of areas to think about: supply, payment, logistics including importing, cold storage, security, and venues for the application of the vaccine, first responders, and an escrow service to make sure that companies making monetary donations and those involved in logistics get their money’s worth.
I congratulate Carolina Chavez for taking a position as Director of Economic Development and Business Policy for Councilmember Stephen Whitburn, District 3 ().
I am aware of the many hats Carolina wore at SIMNSA. She led the foundation, organized boxing bouts at Grand Hotel, coordinated golf tournaments, facilitated the growth of the Baja Health Cluster, negotiated with local authorities and gave many interviews, to name just a few.
Our coalition visited Qualcomm’s Smart City Campus in Sorrento Valley on February 11th (). Our host was the company’s head of Smart Cities and 25-year veteran executive Sanjeet Pandit. Board members Steve Williams, Hank Morton, Barbara Wight, Hank Morton, Mohammad Karbasi and Pepe Larroque, as well as Taylor Guitar’s VP of Product Development Ed Granero and Bose Corporation’s Engineering Manager Peter Righellis were present.
As stated on their Smart Cities site, “The campus replicates a smart city environment at the scale of a campus, featuring commercially available end-to-end solutions as implementation of a number of ‘smarts’ — from lighting, parking, transportation, logistics, trash cans, and security. All campus capabilities can be viewed, managed, and controlled from our corresponding command center while providing insights and real-time data and activity across the many sensors.”
Notable quotes came from various visitors:
Bose’s Ed Granero: “The applications we saw in real-time were far advanced technologically and have a clear and practical value for improving factory and border logistics…The modularity of these solutions also offer a unique opportunity to create a realistic phased approach to achieve the team’s objectives at the border.”
Solar Turbine’s Mohammad Karbasi: “What resonated with me was that everything we looked at was already in production and used in a practical manner.”
El Florido’s Pepe Larroque: “It was incredible to visit with Qualcomm, literally in our backyard, and to see the incredible advances the have on "smart cities" that could help our region's border so much! Truly eye-opening.”
Qualcomm has been involved in border projects between Maine and Canada, Brazil and Paraguay, and Malaysia and Singapore. We asked ourselves why it was that this great global company was not looking at its own backyard as a unique testing ground. Now it is.
Magna Certa () is a secure digital certificate company based in Austin and led by co-founder and CEO Alfonso Olvera, a brilliant Mexican engineer who has a formidable group of co-founders including Paul Maritz of Microsoft fame ( ). Advisors include Adam Back of bitcoin ( ) and Willem van Biljon ( ).
Magna Certa has been working with a worldwide program called The CommonPass funded by the Rockefeller Foundation and the World Economic Forum to allow countries to update health screening entry requirements as the pandemic evolves and science progresses. The CommonPass framework allows people to access lab results and vaccination efforts, and consent to have information used to validate their COVID status without revealing any other underlying health information.
As vaccination efforts increase in our border region, the likelihood of fraudulent vaccines has increased, leaving many in a vulnerable position.
Laboratories are starting to appear on a weekly basis. We are seeing drive-thru facilities, fly-by-night clinics and vaccine peddlers.
I have connected MagnaCerta and The CommonPass to a high-quality lab in our border region.
Imagine our land border crossers subjected to additional obligations when crossing. How would CBP know whether the information they present at the booth is legitimate? The CommonPass accompanied by a secure digital certificate on the smart phone could be a way to manage this.
Frigid weather stopped natural gas from flowing from Texas to Tamaulipas, Nuevo León, Chihuahua and Coahuila, wreaking havoc on cross-border supply chains and giving the AMLO administration ample ammunition to argue for developing domestic, government-funded, and carbon-based energy sources.
Fortunately natural gas inventory and distribution from IEnova in Ensenada to thermoelectric plants in Mexicali that distribute power to the Mexican Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) prevented Baja California from suffering a prolonged blackout.
As Mario Lopez of IEnova stated, “We have invested 25 years and $9 billion in Mexico and $3 billion in the pipeline to secure the North American Economic Region. Energy is one of many areas where we are integrated and have a high level of interdependence. Common North American goals benefit the region as a whole.”
We continue our campaign to give the new book El Tercer País: San Diego & Tijuana. Two Countries. Two Cities. One Community to selected experts, officeholders, media, nonprofit, cultural, education, and business leaders, and influencers. Over 200 people across the U.S. and Mexico have received formal packages from our coalition. Our goal is 1,000 recipients.
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:
After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.
Gustavo De La Fuente