The busiest border crossing in the world, the San Ysidro - Tijuana border crossing located on the San Diego, California border is a binational megaregion that deserves more attention than what it is currently getting.
To understand the issue, it needs to be in perspective. What is the San Diego / Tijuana Megaregion? Think back during the aftermath of World War II when you had Berlin split in two by a wall. That is the reality that we live in right now in Southern California and Northern Baja. San Diego and Tijuana are literally one city split by a border that separates it into two different countries. Just as you can find a taco shop on every street in San Diego you can find a hamburger shop on every street in Tijuana. The two cities are fused together at the heart and have been for over a century.
Trillions and trillions of dollars is spent between the two countries annually. Many people lack understanding this due to their extremist views (both left and right). Due to the high cost of goods in Mexico, many are forced to cross the border into San Diego to do their "compras" where they can save anywhere from 20 - 40% and get higher quality goods. If the border was completely shut down, San Diego would suffer greatly. A good portion of the purchases made in San Diego County, especially South County, come from money earned down south. San Diego is prospering mostly in fact due to these purchases whether they want to admit it or not. It is a fact.
The same can be said about Tijuana and the Baja State as a whole. If the border was shut down the State of Baja California would suffer great economic losses. The State depends dearly on the American tourist money coming in and also benefits greatly from NAFTA that has led to many factories relocating to the region like BOSE and Samsung among others. This provides a dual benefit of decent jobs in the region and cheaper products in the United States.
There are cutting edge tech centers like the HUB STN and the BIT Center in Tijuana. These places are hubs where startups and freelancers can mingle with each other and work sparking a great amount of creativity. There are even accelerators and angel funding companies located inside these locations to further help these companies grow. The tech that is happening in Baja is amazing.
Sound pretty cool, right? Well wrong. There are a lot of good ideas and ideas should not have borders. A lot of these ideas aren't even given a chance at life due to an archaic immigration and border system from both countries. In my opinion it seems that there are groups on both sides of the border that are against trade and open borders. OK, open borders is the wrong word, what we need in the area are smart borders. Borders that allow commerce to flow freely. Borders that do not hold up law abiding citizens in long lines wasting time and money just to cross the border. In recent months the border lines have spread to the south bound lanes into Mexico as well. These type of policies are anti-business, anti-people and anti-prosperous for both regions.
The problem is with both Washington and Mexico City. The people who control the border region are out of touch with the realities of the border. Tijuana isn't the Tijuana of the 1960's or even the 1990's. It is a fast evolving city that is quickly become a tech hub not only in Mexico but Latin America. It is quickly becoming a gastronomic center as well with award winning foods and wine.
I view that the United States brings experience and the mighty dollar to the table, while Mexico brings money, but more importantly creativity and ingenuity. In Mexico the old saying "where there is a will, there is a way" holds so true that you actually have to be there to understand the meaning fully.
Historically, the trade of business, culture and money has benefited both sides greatly and it is only growing. So with this in mind, why is there so much drama and hardship caused because of the border? Why can't an engineer from Baja California easily work for Qualcomm if they want just by registering at the border as they are crossing? Why can't a "gringo" open a factory on their own in Baja with ease and not a lot of red tape that exists with most "tramites" (transactions) in Mexico? People on both sides of the border are making it a lot harder than what it needs to be. There is a solution and the solution is simple... smart borders.
How do we implement those smart borders? How do we open up the Baja Cali megaregion to expand it even further? It starts by showing the people of both countries the benefits of friendship and reaching across borders. I sometimes feel we are friendlier with China than we are with Mexico. It drives me nuts. We have a willing and able partner south of us but yet we have to treat them like North Koreans. Mexico isn't innocent in this as well, Vincente Fox had many blunders during his presidency that I feel set the relationship back with the United States. The bottom line is whether you are PRI or the GOP, PAN or DEM it is time to have a mature adult orientated conversation on how our nations can work together and create smart borders. That is the fuel needed to energize the huge Baja Cali megaregion.
To get smart borders we have to open up the eyes of the politicians. Instead of them legislating from Sacramento, Mexicali, Washington or Mexico City they need to come and visit the border region on both sides. They need to start to understand how the two countries can work together to help each other prosper. Only by opening their eyes will they finally see and be willing to engage in change. The only thing I caution is to remember that you only lead a blind man to water, but you can't make him drink.
David Strausser is a graduate of Penn State. He holds a degree in Information Sciences and Technology and is currently seeking another degree in Business.