This week Arizona's Republican Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake put on their tour guide hats and explored the border with fellow Sens. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., and Michael Bennet, D-Colo.
This excursion was important for the people who live along the U.S.-Mexico border because these individuals are part of the "Gang of Eight," a group of senators trying to come up with a bipartisan proposal for immigration reform that will have lasting impact on life along the border.
Unfortunately, they stayed with their tried and true tourist stops that have always included the border wall, a conversation with the Tucson Sector Border Patrol top brass, and a flyover of the expansive border region.
When they highlight only these attractions on the tour, they force the narrow argument that the only solution is more walls, more technology and more law enforcement.
They could have easily broadened their tour to include the Fresh Produce Association, the Nogales Port Authority or even the Arizona-Sonora Border Coalition where they would have received a community perspective that desires a "better border." But instead they stuck to their safe tour and standard talking points.
Thus, they failed to emphasize that the border region is home to 6 million people living in border communities from California to Texas, and these communities are among the safest in the country. They conveniently forgot to mention that the Pew Center has reported that net unauthorized immigration from Mexico has fallen to zero - more people are returning to Mexico than are leaving. They somehow overlooked the fact that Customs and Border Protection's budget is more than $12 billion. With more than 61,000 personnel (most concentrated on the southern border), it is the largest law enforcement agency in the country.
There is already tremendous dedication of resources and infrastructure on the U.S.-Mexico border. The reality that a humanitarian crisis has scarred the border with an estimated 10,000 migrants deaths was tragically ignored.
Sadly, our Arizona senators missed the opportunity to be advocates for the borderlands and underscore the U.S.-Mexico border region's significance to Arizona and the nation as a whole. It is one of the most important economic engines in the country with billions of dollars in essential trade, commerce and tourism. The 25 ports of entry along the border are critical gateways to Mexico, our third-largest trading partner and second-largest market for U.S. exports.
Every day more than 400,000 people and 15,000 containers enter legally through our southern ports. One-third of the containers arrive empty to load U.S. goods for sale in Mexico. An estimated 6 million jobs (one in every 24 workers in the U.S.) depend on trade with Mexico. However, in Arizona we are struggling to compete with other border states to have modern and efficient ports of entry that can attract cross-border trade.
Our Arizona senators must take this once-in-a-generation opportunity to reframe the storyline for Arizona and the border region. They must move the conversation from one that is solely about law enforcement and security to one that is about opportunities, resources and abundant possibilities. Arizona deserves a "better border" and it begins with our own senators cheering on the border region and lifting up its cultural and economic value when they bring fellow senators to our state for a tour.
The Rev. Dr. Randy J. Mayer, pastor of the Good Shepherd United Church of Christ in Sahuarita, is a member of the Arizona-Sonora Border Coalition, co-founder of the Green Valley Samaritans and co-president of BorderLinks.