ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Their two-day discussion touched on everything from economic development and health care to border violence, and governors from both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border agreed Friday that only strong partnerships will allow them to tackle the issues.
The 30th annual Border Governors Conference wrapped up with a closing ceremony in which the governors of New Mexico and Arizona and the Mexican states of Baja California, Sonora and Chihuahua vowed to continue working together.
"We are all neighbors. We are all concerned about promoting prosperity for the people we represents on both sides of the border," Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer said at a news conference following the conference.
Representatives of Texas and the Mexican states of Nuevo Leon and Coahuila were also in attendance.
Brewer, Martinez and representatives from Texas pointed to the billions of dollars in exports that move from their states to Mexico each year. They said the border region represents one-quarter of the nation's gross domestic product and new emphasis needs to be put on developing strategies for improving communication, transportation and infrastructure along the U.S-Mexico border.
"Our region is a force to be reckoned with," Martinez said, adding that leaders on both sides should feel a sense of urgency in following through on the recommendations developed during the conference.
Despite all the talk about competitiveness and economics, warring drug cartels and the violence that stems from drug trafficking and human smuggling could not be ignored.
"It's an issue we talk about," said Sonora Gov. Guillermo Padres Elias. "We always talk about how to help each other. We see obviously the risks, but we also see the great benefits we have between the states in the border region. It's not something you should keep as a secret, it's something you put on the table and try to work through."
Padres Elias said his state has collaborated with both New Mexico and Arizona and that the goal for all three states is the same: "To keep our people safe."
Martinez said half of the cases she used to see as a prosecutor in southern New Mexico's Dona Ana County were related to drug trafficking that was connected with organized crime. The violence that comes with that is now affecting families, she said.
"We work together because it doesn't do us any good, on either side of that border, to have that kind of violence take place," Martinez said. "Our economics can't grow, and people don't want to own businesses on either side of the border when bullets are flying and people are dying."
Arizona has become a gateway for drug cartels because of greater enforcement in California and Texas, Brewer said. That has left her residents having to bear the criminal fallout that comes from trafficking.
Brewer said efforts to secure the U.S. border have nothing to do with challenging diversity, but rather the rule of law. States like Arizona need more help, she said.
"It's the federal government's responsibility to secure our border and they need to do that, and then we can deal with all the other issues that have come about because our border hasn't been secured," she said.
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