Senate OK of CBP-city partnership bill praised
Lawmakers and El Paso business leaders Wednesday praised Senate passage of legislation on partnerships between border communities and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
New legislation to codify funding partnerships between the communities, organizations and Customs and Border Protection was passed in the Senate this week.
"Ensuring our ports of entries are working the way they should be is fundamentally connected to jobs and economic growth," said U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-El Paso.
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, introduced S. 461, known as the Cross-Border Enhancement Act, which was passed by the Senate on Tuesday. The act legally authorizes CBP to enter into partnerships with local governments in order to expedite funding for the use of improving border infrastructure and increased staffing. The legislation is now headed to the House of Representatives, with the possibility of a vote next week. It would then have to be signed by the president to become law.
The legislation would legally codify the CBP's Donations Acceptance Program, which authorizes the agency to enter into public-private partnerships and accept donations from public and private sectors to help alleviate border wait times and some staffing challenges. The Donations Acceptance Program is authorized under Section 559 of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014.
"Cross-border trade is essential to our community," said Cindy Ramos-Davidson, CEO of the El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. "However, the growth has far outpaced the infrastructure. This could be an essential way of granting local municipalities some necessary flexibility to address the staffing infrastructure at the border."
El Paso is currently a part of the pilot Donations Acceptance Program. Under the program, the city of El Paso works with CBP to fund overtime and additional customs staffing. The legislation would remove the need for the program to be reauthorized every year.
There is also a bill in the House, H.R. 875, that is similar to the Cross-Border Enhancement Act. The House version was introduced in February 2015 and was sponsored by U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, and co-sponsored by O'Rourke.
In April, U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, had a provision included in H.R. 3586 that would have codified the Donations Acceptance Program, but the bill stalled in the House.
On Wednesday, Hurd praised Cornyn's work on trying to make the funding partnership program permanent.
"International trade and commerce is the life-blood for many towns in my district; however, our ports of entry are overburdened. Decreasing the time it takes to move goods and services safely across the border would have a tremendous economic impact on the region," Hurd said in an emailed statement. "I’m grateful for Senator Cornyn’s efforts to get this important bill through the Senate, and excited for the South and West Texas businesses and communities that will reap the benefits."
The legislation would give more flexibility to municipalities to address the needs at their ports of entries. Also, funding from cities or groups would not negatively affect CBP's budget.
"Anything the City of El Paso spends in Section 559 — if they want to fund something, either infrastructure or personnel — that does not supplant what CBP is doing. So if we fund 10 hours of overtime for customs officers in El Paso, CBP doesn’t have to reduce their budget by 10 hours," O'Rourke emphasized.
O'Rourke said people from Juárez inject around $1.4 billion yearly into El Paso's economy.
"The likelihood of Juarenses spending money in El Paso is connected to their ability to get into El Paso," O'Rourke said.
The Cross-Border Enhancement Act has been endorsed by different municipalities along the border, including the city of El Paso, the El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Borderplex Alliance. In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., representatives from different counties, cities and organizations urged McConnell and Reid to pass the Cross-Border Trade Enhancement Act before the end of the 114th Congress.
Ramos-Davidson was among those who signed the letter to McConnell and Reid.
Jon Barela, CEO of The Borderplex Alliance, said, "This bipartisan bill is vital to border communities like the North American Borderplex Region because it promotes flexibility and efficiency on funding additional resources to minimize wait times at our ports of entry. I applaud the efforts, in particular of Congressman Hurd and O’Rourke, for their support of this legislation."
CBP officials said they do not comment on proposed legislation, but in the past have said that they see partnerships created by Section 559 "as an opportunity to proactively work with stakeholders and communities to identify business solutions for a variety of border management needs."