WASHINGTON -- Mayors from U.S.-Mexico border cities urged Congress to pass immigration reform and invest in improved ports of entry, moves they said would lead to greater diplomacy and help the economies of both countries.
"We should never let border security get in the way of the economy," Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton said.
Stanton was joined by mayors of Laredo, Texas, Las Cruces, N.M., and Torreon, Mexico, at the 21st Century Border Initiative meeting last week in Washington.
The Democratic think tank has been holding meetings and backing research in an effort to support a 2010 agreement between the U.S. and Mexican governments that called for improved trade and travel between the two countries.
Arizona made headlines when lawmakers passed SB 1070, a get-tough law aimed at cracking down on illegal immigration by, among other things, allowing police to determine whether someone they arrest is in the country legally.
Stanton said he wants to end the political "divisiveness" and reform Arizona's image - which he said has suffered from the law -- to draw back Mexican tourism that has fallen in recent years and encourage trade. He said Arizona has fallen way behind Texas and California as a foreign trading partner with Mexico.
All the mayors pointed to the falling number of illegal border crossings and improved security in border towns like El Paso, Texas, as evidence that it is time to act on immigration reform to improve economic relations with Mexico.
Mexico's growing middle class, improvements in education and housing, and an economy ranked 13th in the world demonstrate its value as a trade partner, said Alan Bersin, chief diplomatic officer for the Department of Homeland Security.
Laredo Mayor Raul Salinas said he always thought the idea of building a wall to separate the two countries was ridiculous and bridges of friendship are necessary to foster the trade that is already booming in Texas.
"People need to come to the border to see what is happening," he said.
Salinas said that any immigration reform package should include elements of the DREAM Act, which would create a path to citizenship for certain immigrants who were brought here illegally as children.
Congress should "love those ‘dreamers' who have worked so hard to get an education," Salinas said, not leave undocumented immigrants who have come to work here "in the shadows."
Eduardo Olmos, mayor of Torreon in the Mexican state of Coahuila, which borders Texas, said that Mexico needs to address its own security problems in addition to getting immigration reform in the U.S.
He said his city had 761 murders last year, but that he has revamped the city's police force. He is optimistic that the leadership of President Barack Obama and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto will improve security and the economy in both countries.
"We have a lot of hope invested in this partnership," Olmos said.