UC San Diego News Center


Report: ‘Frictionless Border’ Would Benefit U.S., Mexico

Better processes, smarter systems, more advanced technologies needed

Mary Wolshok

Mary Walshok

A comprehensive research report prepared by a coalition of nationally-respected urban economic experts contends that both the United States and Mexico would benefit significantly from establishing what is termed a “frictionless border.”

Such a change in diplomatic and economic strategy would enable the San Diego-Tijuana border crossing to greatly accelerate bi-national economic growth and prosperity rather than serving as a choke-point of congestion.

Titled “From Border Barriers to Bi-National Promise: What the Future Could Be with a Frictionless Border,” the 25-page report was prepared by the Creative Class Group, a New York-based urban-studies consulting firm, in close partnership with Global CONNECT, a global research division of UC San Diego Extension.

“Place, not statehood, is the central axis of our time and of our global economy,” said Richard Florida, founder of the Creative Class Group (CCG), a leading national urban-studies firm based in New York, NY. “In this age of epochal economic challenges, we need to open doors, not close them. ... Better processes, smarter systems and more advanced technologies are desperately needed.”

Added Mary Walshok, associate vice chancellor of public program, dean of UC San Diego Extension and a co-author on the report: “The key to fully maximizing the potential of the border will require us to integrate economic, social and cultural objectives into border policy. We regard the focus as reimagining the border and its management.”

Researchers met with dozens of business, community and government officials on both sides of the Tijuana-San Diego border to hear their personal stories and vision for a frictionless U.S. and Mexico border.

The report’s conclusion is that billions of dollars of economic opportunity are being squandered due to the narrow definition of the border as exclusively a homeland security issue, and that integrating economic and social-cultural objectives into border policy could unlock this huge potential.

On Thursday, May 1, 2014, the report’s findings were presented to civic, business, academic and public policy experts representing both sides of the border. The meeting was hosted by the San Diego Foundation.

Each day, more than 300,000 daily commuters cross the San Diego-Tijuana border in each direction, many forced to endure wait times as long as two to three hours and more. Annually, more than 60 million border crossings are made, an estimated half for shopping and recreation, with 10 million job-related.

Key findings include

  • Annual border spending has tripled over the last decade as lawmakers have allocated funds to build a sophisticated network of sensors, fences, law enforcement patrols, and unmanned aerial vehicles.
  • Direct losses from narrow policy objectives and antiquated infrastructure between San Diego County and Baja California amount to $2.9 billion in foregone gross output, 40,000 jobs in the San Diego and Baja California regions and $7.2 billion and 62,000 jobs in the U.S. and Mexican economies.
  • Emissions and pollution at the border crossing have been linked to respiratory problems, cardiovascular disease and cancer in vulnerable populations.

Key recommendations include

  • A formal division between the security and policy considerations in the governance of U.S. border operations, and the inclusion of the U.S Department of State and/or the U.S. Department of Commerce in its management;
  • Substantial investment in more advanced border-surveillance technologies and government management systems;
  • Significant investment in more efficient transportation infrastructure, from bi-national airports to high-speed trains to link the two regions.

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