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Apr 28, 2024 | In The News

Bipartisan Policy Center

In a rare bipartisan visit to the southern border, Arizona Representatives Juan Ciscomani (R) and Greg Stanton (D) were joined by Reps. Nikki Budzinski (D-IL), Young Kim (R-CA), Eric Sorensen (D-IL), and Nick LaLota (R-NY) to tour the border and surrounding communities in Arizona and Nogales, Mexico, through the Bipartisan Policy Center’s American Congressional Exchange (ACE). The purpose: to better understand the urgent challenges and opportunities for bipartisan cooperation on U.S. immigration and border policy. The policymakers committed two days to substantive discussions and site visits with community leaders and policymakers; law enforcement and border patrol officials; legal scholars and practitioners; humanitarian and advocacy organizations; and private industry leaders across health, advanced manufacturing, higher education, and economic development.

This ACE trip opened at Arizona State University in Tempe, where representatives joined industry leaders, advocacy groups, and academics from the ASU School of Transborder Studies to discuss economic and regulatory aspects of immigration, including impacts on workforce, higher education, talent supply, and U.S. economic competitiveness. The congressional delegation heard from Intel and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), leading global producers of advanced semiconductors and beneficiaries of recent federal investment under the bipartisan Chips and Science Act. Combined, Intel and TSMC are investing over $60B in the Phoenix area and will create over 16,000 jobs. To successfully build out the domestic semiconductor industry and other advanced manufacturing capabilities critical to U.S. national security and global competitiveness, they and other regional employers have an urgent need to scale up a highly skilled workforce, and are working to recruit and train in the United States as well as streamline the immigration system to attract and retain global talent in the U.S. The members also heard from business advocacy organizations on the benefits that providing legal status to DACA recipients and the current undocumented workforce would have for agriculture, healthcare, and companies like TSMC and Intel.

At the University of Arizona in Tucson, representatives met Rogers College of Law Dean Marc Miller and Professor Lynn Marcus, co-director of the Law College Immigration Law Clinic, which provides high-quality legal services to refugees and immigrants in the Tucson area who otherwise lack access to counsel. The group learned about the foundations of refugee and asylum law; the complicated and narrow definitions and processes used to decide asylum cases; and the multidimensional challenges in addressing a steep increase in the volume—as well as growing diversity in nationalities—of asylum-seeking migrants at the southern border. These trends have strained the legal structures tasked with processing asylum and other immigration cases and the legal services available to assist them.

To better understand the humanitarian needs of those released from government custody to seek asylum, the representatives then visited Casa Alitas, a charitable organization supported by Catholic Community Services in Tucson that provides reception, food, clothing, case management, and travel assistance for migrant families in their first hours in the United States. Through a robust network of public and private partnerships across healthcare, NGOs, universities, and local and state government agencies, Casa Alitas and its volunteers provide swift and compassionate assistance to hundreds of legally processed asylum seekers each day as they travel to their final destinations across the country. The members learned about the critical role of organizations like Casa Alitas in reducing “street releasees” of migrants, as well as easing the financial, legal, and healthcare burdens on the local governments in southern Arizona caused by increased migration. Lastly, the members heard of the funding “cliffs” faced by these organizations due to the delay of federal funds through the appropriations process.

Rural communities in southern Arizona—even those many miles from the border—have also been challenged by the effects of migration. The group joined law enforcement officials, mayors, and county administrators from Cochise, Pima, and Santa Cruz Counties to understand safety concerns and resource constraints among borderland and interior communities. While emphasizing the importance of trade and travel across the legal ports of entry to their communities, local officials also stressed how a sharp increase in migrant and drug smuggling across the border into their counties is skyrocketing costs and taxing for law enforcement personnel. These officials encouraged the policymakers to find ways to strengthen federal- and state-level engagement with law enforcement and other local stakeholders in order to effectively delegate resources and expand the capacity of local ports to detect and interdict drugs and address associated criminal activity in borderland communities.

Later, led by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials in Nogales, Arizona, the delegation attended briefings and toured customs, immigration, and commercial operations facilities at the port of entry, including rail and truck processing. The Nogales Port of Entry is a critically important economic gateway for both the U.S. and Mexico, with over $3 billion in commerce flowing through the port annually. The members then joined a “ride along” with Border Patrol agents along the border and toured migrant processing and perimeter control facilities.

The ACE program became binational as the members, led by U.S. State Department officials, walked across the border into Sonora state in Mexico. At Consul General Michelle Ward’s residence, the members and Sonora government officials discussed how the state of Sonora is working with the Mexican government to address the increased northbound flows of migrants in recent months. The Consul General shared how political instability and persecution, organized crime, threats of violence, and poor economic conditions are driving increased migration, a rise in asylum requests, and expanded safety, security, and humanitarian concerns at and around the border.

The Consul General and delegation members then toured Belden, Inc.’s industrial manufacturing plant, or “maquiladora,” in Nogales, Mexico. With corporate headquarters in St. Louis, Missouri, Belden, a leading global supplier of specialty networking solutions, benefits from tax and tariff relief and supply chain proximity at its Nogales, Mexico plant, while providing high-quality employment for the local community, including workforce development training and coordination with local universities in both Arizona and Sonora. Representatives learned from company leadership about the role of maquiladoras in shaping trade relations with Mexico—the largest U.S. trading —and how increased economic cooperation with Mexico enables American companies to retain profitable operations within North America, reducing reliance on trade with China.

The six members of Congress not only acquired new knowledge and perspectives about the complexities of immigration and border policy, but also learned about each other and uncovered shared interests. Most importantly, they found bipartisan opportunities for cooperation to strengthen federal immigration and border policy to benefit their constituents and the country. By visiting the border landscape and surrounding communities in Arizona and engaging in frank conversations with local, county, state, federal, and international stakeholders, this regional and ideologically diverse group of lawmakers is returning to Washington with trusted partners across the aisle and a shared commitment to finding informed and achievable solutions for U.S. immigration and border policy.

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