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Tuesday, September 27, 2022 — Houston, TX

Government officials discuss border safety

By Cindy Dinh     1/14/10 6:00pm

Rice, like the rest of Houston, is a short trip from the U.S.-Mexico border, and is directly impacted by immigration, making the campus an ideal site for discussions of border security and U.S.-Mexico relations. Both Alan Bersin, Assistant Secretary of the Office of International Affairs and Special Representative for Border Affairs, and Undersecretary of the Interior of Mexico Gerónimo Gutiérrez Fernández spoke about U.S.-Mexico border security at Rice Wednesday in Duncan Hall. Bersin, who is responsible for developing strategy on security, immigration, narcotics and trade matters affecting Mexico, describes the two nations' relationship as "friendly but proper."

"It is only at the border where asymmetries of power dissolve," Bersin said, adding that the economic and political power between U.S. and Mexico is equal at the border.

Both Bersin and Fernández suggested paradigm shifts to think about borders as flows rather than definitive lines. While borders outline the geographic divisions of countries, Bersin said borders should be seen as flows of people, goods, ideas and capital.

"Stop thinking about security and trade promotion as antithetical," Bersin said.

He suggested that 90 percent of the border security's time should be spent on identifying 10 percent of the goods and people that border security does not know about.

Since the early 1990s, transnational crime has grown more sophisticated and has affected the shared values of democracy, rule of law and protection of citizens, Fernández said.

"The Mexican government does not deny the very serious security challenges caused by organized crime," he said.

The level of violence was of utmost concern for Mexico and was as much a problem of drug users as of drug producers, Fernández said. He estimates 95 percent of all the killings in Mexico within the past year were the result of inter-gang wars or from failed police operations. Only a small percent are "regular citizens," he said.

"It is not acceptable by any means, but it is important to recognize that," Fernández said.

The level of violence may be a personal issue for individuals with families living along the border, regardless of its impact on the average Rice student.

"From my limited time in Houston, there are a lot of Mexican immigrants here," Jones College freshman Chris Keller said. "A lot of people have families in these border cities. It's not such a personal issue for me, but to a lot of other people it's a matter of [asking], 'Can my family be safe?'"

The Mexican government is confronting organized crime through arrests and extradition, but Fernández said it is important for citizens to know that both governments recognize the problems and work to address them. To accomplish this, Fernández outlined a joint security strategy that involves pre-certified trade and travel, sharing border security information in a timely manner and a shared infrastructure to have similar systems operating in each government.

"What happens at the border does not necessarily originate at the border," Fernández said.

The event was preceded by a historic signing of a document of the Puentes Consortium, which provides a forum for university presidents from both sides of the border to discuss U.S.-Mexico relations and research initiatives. The five participating universities were Rice, the University of Arizona, Instituto Técnologico de Estudios Superiores de México, Universidad de las Américas Puebla and Universidad de Monterrey.

"I was suprised to hear that among the U.S. schools, Rice was one of them," Sid Richardson College sophomore Amir Nikahd said. "I'm proud that Rice is being involved in this and hopefully it gets more attention.

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