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Immigration Task Force Discusses Integrating Immigrants into U.S. Communities, Importance of Trade Across U.S. Borders

By Laura DeKoven Waxman
January 28, 2013

The importance of integrating immigrants, including those who are undocumented into communities and fostering trade along the border with both Mexico and Canada were the focus of the discussion in the Immigration Reform Task Force meeting held January 17 during the Conference of Mayors Winter Meeting in Washington. The Task Force is led by Laredo Mayor Raul Salinas. Department of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary for Intergovernmental Affairs Betsy Markey worked with the Conference of Mayors to organize the session and participated in it.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Alejandro Mayorkas told the mayors that his agency focuses on welcoming immigrants to the United States and integrating them into communities, acknowledging that it is local efforts, which are primarily responsible for the success of that integration. He cited several cities, including Boston, Chicago, Hartford, Houston, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, that have individuals in city government responsible for integrating immigrants into the community and/or special immigrant integration efforts underway which have been successful.

Mayorkas also reported that under the Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals program, over 400,000 applications have been received and over 150,000 applications had been granted. During its 2012 annual meeting in Orlando in June, the Conference of Mayors called on President Obama to provide deferred action status to young people who would be eligible for the DREAM Act and, while the mayors were still in Orlando, the President announced his intent to do just that. During his opening remarks at the session, Salinas discussed the importance of providing a pathway to citizenship for “Dreamers,” young people who were brought to the country as children, have pursued an education or served in the military, and basically done everything right.

“The ability of the U.S. economy to produce jobs for the future is intimately related to what we do with Mexico and Canada,” Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Mathew Rooney told the mayors at the task force meeting. He asked the mayors to encourage their small business development centers to think broadly about the economic relationship with Mexico and Canada and assist small businesses to take advantage of it.

Rooney discussed the importance of the economic relationship between the U.S. and Mexico in particular, reporting that 80 percent of trade with Mexico occurs over land crossings, that the U.S. is the largest tourist destination for Mexicans, and that the economic relationship with Mexico is important for all areas of the country, not just along the Southwest Border.

Customs and Border Patrol Deputy Commissioner David Aguilar stressed his agency’s efforts to improve border crossings, explaining that illegal immigration and narcotics problems have been mitigated. He reported that his agency is working closely with Mexico’s new government, and admitted that in some areas Mexico is ahead of the U.S. in reducing delays at the border. He cited federal fiscal constraints and discussed the importance of public-private partnerships to fund efforts to improving border crossings. Finally, he stressed that his agency works closely with communities located along the border, some of which, he said, are among the safest in the U.S.