Other Voices

Politicians clearly don’t know much about El Paso

Pedestrians walk along a street in Ciudad Juarez, with El Paso in the background.
Pedestrians walk along a street in Ciudad Juarez, with El Paso in the background. Star-Telegram

As a longtime resident of El Paso, I am accustomed to the presidential “silly season,” that special time every four years when presidential candidates make sweeping statements about U.S.-Mexico relations.

But this year, with calls for building walls and baseless accusations about Mexican immigrants, the rhetoric seems more sinister than silly.

It is also deeply divorced from the facts, and it can be damaging to the longtime reality of a harmonious and symbiotic relationship between El Paso and Juarez, something folks in Washington seem not to understand or don’t want to accept.

For example, the net flow of people between the U.S. and Mexico has been essentially zero for more than five years now.

The crime wave that briefly made Juarez the most dangerous city in the world has also receded, and across the border, my hometown of El Paso has for many years enjoyed its status as one of the safest cities of its size in the nation.

Unfortunately, facts and statistics can do only so much against headline-grabbing proclamations. Sometimes it is better to show rather than tell.

In that spirit, the region spanning El Paso, Ciudad Juarez and southern New Mexico (the North American Borderplex) recently hosted a dozen high-level corporate, academic and policy individuals to see for themselves what life on the border is like.

Over the course of several days, participants met with dozens of government, nonprofit and business leaders on both sides of the border, learning about issues of common concern and touring facilities that defied their expectations.

Of course, to create a coherent agenda you need to recognize where reality parts way with rhetoric.

Rather than two siloed cities, the delegation saw significant cross-border investments in infrastructure, technology, people and quality of life.

They visited a tech incubator in Juarez that feels like Silicon Valley, a state-of-the-art water-conserving desalination plant in El Paso, and an interactive children’s museum in the heart of Juarez, born from the need to rebuild after the violence of 2007-2011.

They saw the results of long-term investments and cross-border partnerships to improve the health of the nearly 3 million people who call this region home.

I met with the delegation in my role as president of the Medical Center of the Americas Foundation.

Nearly two decades ago, regional leaders began an effort to make access to quality healthcare for all a priority while concurrently diversifying the economy to deliver prosperity for all.

It was an effort that required coordination among the area universities, public and military hospitals on both sides of the border and the region’s growing biomedical research and development industry.

Now, the region’s life sciences industry is proliferating. One of the poorest neighborhoods in El Paso boasts a 440-acre medical campus that includes a new medical school, nursing school and graduate school of biomedical sciences, a renovated medical center and new children’s hospital, and a new biomedical innovation center.

More than a dozen biomedical companies are manufacturing products in the region.

The delegation saw a region that is working closely across state and national lines to improve the quality of life and economic opportunities for all its residents.

If the idea of a wall between the U.S. and Mexico sounded absurd before their visit, this group now knows all that would be lost if we further impede local cooperation.

Emma Schwartz is president of the Medical Center of the Americas Foundation.