Gov. Rick Perry’s Morning Remarks To the Border Governors Conference
Thank you. My fellow governors, legislators and elected officials, business leaders and citizens of the United States and Mexico, thank you for your commitment to keeping our nations safe and creating greater opportunity for our people.
I want to extend my thanks to Governor Richardson for hosting this conference. I am reminded once again why New Mexico, with its breathtaking vistas and sunny skies...minus the Texas humidity, is known as the Land of Enchantment. Governor Schwarzenegger, it is good to welcome you to the company of colleagues, neighbors, and friends at your first Border Governor’s Conference. It is also an honor to be with Arizona’s leader, Governor Napolitano.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t say a word of appreciation to our Mexican colleagues, many of whom I have had the pleasure of working with over the last four years as we have sought common ground on issues like trade, healthcare, and protecting our shared natural resources. Thank you for your friendship.
The United States and Mexico have a special bond. Not only are we connected by a common border, but in many respects a common way of life. We live and work in a virtually borderless marketplace, we celebrate a blended culture, and millions of our people trace their family roots to common ancestors. Our nations share hundreds of years of history, but more importantly, we share a common future. And I can envision no scenario in which we can succeed if we pursue separate paths to that future.
Today, we seek to further our cooperative relationship, not just for the benefit of our respective governments, but for our entire peoples. One of the greatest challenges faced by those of us who live along our border is striking a balance between increased security demands and maintaining the free flow of trade.
The world has changed dramatically since September 11th, and we must adapt to the new realities of a post-911 world. September 11th taught us that attacks on our nation not only jeopardize the safety and security of our people, but the fundamentals of our economy. We learned that, in a matter of minutes, entire economies can be devastated by a terrorist attack, and the negative financial consequences respect no international boundaries.
Less than ten days ago, we were reminded again of the strong link between our economic interests and our national security interests when Secretary Ridge warned of plots to attack American financial centers. The threat of terrorism is a chief concern for every freedom-loving country. And just as the Mexican people stood with us following the attacks on September 11th, we must be united in our vigilance and determination to stop future attacks and confront our common terrorist enemy.
At the same time, like a lot of border citizens and employers, I believe federal officials must not only require stronger security measures, they must fund them too. In Texas, we have taken a cooperative approach to working with the federal government on security issues to ensure we’re doing all we can to protect our people while at the same time preserving economic opportunities.
Last month, I announced that my office would be working with Department of Homeland Security officials to hold community hearings on the U.S. Visit Program. For months I have contended it is unfair to allow Canadian visitors a six-month stay while limiting Mexican visitors with a laser visa to only three days. It is good to know federal officials have been listening to our concerns. Yesterday I was informed that visit times for Mexican citizens with a laser visa have been extended from three days to a full 30 days. Though this is not the parity I seek, it is certainly a positive step in the right direction.
Of course, for all of the economic concerns expressed over tighter security measures, our greatest economic concern must always be preventing another terrorist attack. Nine-eleven reminds us we live in an interdependent world, with a seamless marketplace, and we cannot separate the economic interests of the East Coast from those of the West Coast, the Southwest and all of Latin America. We must distinguish between hassles and hindrances. Trucks and passengers lined up for hours to cross the border is an economic hindrance. Taking off one’s shoes at an airport is a hassle, but one worth enduring to save lives.
High-tech tools like the laser-visa program and the collection of biometric data at border crossings add mere seconds to travelers’ wait times, but can add years to innocent peoples’ lives if terrorist plotters are discovered and stopped before they act. Biometric identifiers, such as fingerprints that can be read by high-tech scanners, make security more effective by making identity fraud more difficult.
Last week Houston’s Bush Intercontinental Airport became only the third airport in the U.S. to begin a pilot program using this technology on a voluntary basis.
As a sovereign nation, we have an inherent security need that requires we be able to verify the identity of individuals who seek entry into our country. If we were to be attacked again tomorrow, and if we were to find out the assailants came through a Texas port of entry, I doubt critics would ask whether we considered the economic impact of security measures, but instead would ask “why didn’t we do more to protect the American people?”
As a nation of immigrants, the United States welcomes men and women who enter our country to better their lives and enrich our society. Travel to an urban classroom, or a citizenship ceremony in our state, and you will find new Americans, of almost every native tongue, who have descended on Texas from every corner of the world to pursue one common dream, the American Dream.
Those who want to build a wall around this nation fail to understand that while we must do everything to keep enemies out, we must never stop the immigrant dream from continuing to make its way in. Those who enter our country in good faith, and seek unlimited freedom, should be welcome whether their native roots are in Australia or Africa, South or North America, Asia or Europe, including that mountainous country called Austria.
As governor of Texas, I welcome the contributions of millions of Mexican workers who are making a better way for their families in Mexico, while building our economy in Texas. And as the first statewide official to endorse NAFTA in the early 90’s, I welcome not only the contributions that Mexican workers make to our economy, but the expanded trade that can create opportunities north and south of our border.
Texas has 15 of the 27 U.S./Mexico border crossings, and over half of all trade between our nations comes through one of our land ports. We are now the largest exporting state in the U.S., and last year Texas businesses exported $99 billion in goods and services to nations around the globe. It should come as no surprise that $42 billion of that total went to our greatest trading partner, Mexico.
There are now 12 separate industries in Texas that export more than $1 billion in goods and products to Mexico each year, and our exports to Mexico were up 22% during the first quarter of 2004. One of the best ways to expand opportunity in Mexico and the U.S. is for American energy companies to be able to participate in the development of Mexico’s vast oil, gas, and electric markets. Though I know this is what we in America call “a political hot potato” when I think of the untapped potential of oil fields like the Burgos Basin, it makes me think more and more that the key to Mexico’s future prosperity is not just north of the border, but underneath your own soil.
We can create thousands of jobs for people on both sides of the border, .create new wealth and opportunity, and meet the electricity demand that is predicted to double by 2020 in Mexico with greater liberalization. To expand trade and create more opportunity, I have proposed the most sweeping project in the nation to move cargo and commodities efficiently. The Trans Texas Corridor, a 4,000 mile network of roads, rail lines, oil and gas pipelines, electric transmission lines, water lines and broadband lines, can better connect Texas and Mexico to the opportunities of the new economy, .as well as states to our east, west and north.
Even on the most contentious of issues, the 1944 Water Treaty, I have long believed that differences should be expressed as friends, not opponents. Because we have kept the lines of communication open, engaged in quiet diplomacy with federal and state officials on both sides of the border, and received some help from Mother Nature, Mexico has transferred to our farmers in the Rio Grande Valley a full year’s supply of water in time for the planting season earlier this year, and another 367,000 acre-feet that should be credited toward the water debt. This represents the most progress on the water issue we have seen in more than a decade. Of course, we must work together toward a long-term resolution of treaty issues, a treaty that not only impacts Texas farmers, but Mexican growers in Tamaulipas too.
On a trade mission to Mexico earlier this year I signed a new “Regional Partnership for Progress” agreement with Governor Gonzalez of Nuevo Leon, Governor Martinez y Martinez of Coahuila, and Governor Yarrington of Tamaulipas. There is much that we must do as partners and neighbors, and much that can be accomplished when we work together to promote our common interests in a spirit of cooperation, not confrontation.
Our shared concerns do not stop with security, trade, and economic opportunity, but they are issues upon which we can begin to build a better tomorrow for our respective peoples. As we look to the future, we must remember that our people, our culture, and our economy are forever linked. We must remember that what binds us together is profoundly stronger than what could ever set us apart. And may we also remember that the United States and Mexico can build a brighter future if our relationship is based on two things: amistad y confianza, friendship and trust.
Thank you, and may God bless the people of Texas and Mexico.
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