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Study outlines major expansion of Santa Teresa Port of Entry


The Santa Teresa Port of Entry could see a major expansion if findings of a federal feasibility study, released last week, are realized.

The General Services Administration and the Customs and Border Protection department presented findings of a feasibility study that envisioned expanding the port of entry to fifteen commercial lanes (from three currently) and eleven passenger lanes leading from Mexico, plus five lanes southbound and the inspection bays for commercial trucks.

If the project is prioritized and funded, the project could transform Santa Teresa into one of the largest ports of entry on the U.S.-Mexico border, more than tripling its current size.

Funding for the study was secured in 2022 by U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, who pressed both agencies to finalize the study and make the proposal a priority project.

In a letter to the agencies, Heinrich wrote that the port in southern Doña Ana County “has become a critical facilitator of international trade — especially with Mexico, our largest trading partner. … Santa Teresa has proven its strategic importance to strengthening the United States’ supply chains, facilitating increased domestic production, and improving the economic well-being of New Mexicans and all Americans.”

The present facility, constructed in 1997, is located over 40 miles south of Las Cruces and near downtown El Paso, Texas, bordering San Jerónimo in Chihuahua, Mexico, and is convenient for commuter travel to and from Ciudad Juárez. Open seven days a week, it has become an alternative access point for motorists to congested crossings in El Paso. In recent years, the state has also made large investments into road improvements and other infrastructure and economic development, seeing Santa Teresa’s open space and proximity to rail and a county airport as a strategic opportunity.

Yet it also has room to expand, unlike many of its counterparts, Heinrich said.

“A lot of these ports of entry are constrained by the development around them. For a long time, we’ve known that Santa Teresa has the capacity to expand.”

He said the study affirms an argument he has been making to CBP for years, to wit: “This is the strategic place to be expanding trade with our largest trading partner.”

Border Industrial Association president Jerry Pacheco told the Bulletin that Santa Teresa has rapidly grown from a link to maquiladoras (manufacturing plants) in Mexico to a logistical and industrial hub at the foot of New Mexico. That has led to billions of dollars of investment, the and the creation of solid, well-paying jobs.

“Santa Teresa has become an electronics hub and an automative hub and a metal fabrication hub and a packaging hub,” he said. “The Santa Teresa region has grown to be the originator of 63 percent of New Mexico’s total exports to the world. That’s more than Albuquerque and the rest of the state put together. We’re the sixth largest port of entry on the U.S.-Mexico border in terms of volume.”

Pacheco said expansions are already underway, including $1.5 million on the U.S. side and a similar-sized investment on the San Jerónimo side. More is needed, he argued, in order to avoid throttling the progress that has been made.

With border security looming as a major issue in the 2024 presidential campaign, Heinrich noted that ports’ role in national security, where most illegal narcotics are intercepted. According to data cited by Heinrich’s office, 99 percent of fentanyl seizures in fiscal year 2023 — over 240,000 pounds’ worth — were caught at the southern border, mostly through the ports. CBP officers at the ports also interdict smuggled weapons bound for organized crime organizations south of the border.

Heinrich, who sits on the Senate appropriations committee, said millions of federal dollars in the final 2024 appropriations bill for projects in New Mexico’s border counties partly address the added burden southern rural counties face: The projects include funding for a new emergency response complex in Anthony, an expansion of the Hidalgo County Emergency Medical Services building, and ballistic imaging machines for use by the state’s Crime Gun Intelligence Center, including one for Las Cruces.

The bill also includes funding for equipment detecting fentanyl and other narcotics for law enforcement agencies in Hidalgo, Catron and Grant counties; drug identification equipment and youth education programming for the Las Cruces Police Department; and similar equipment plus training for Silver City police.

“The counties on the southern border in New Mexico are dealing with a finite tax base,” Heinrich said. “On top of providing those health care and public safety resources to their own constituents, they also have to deal with whatever comes their way with respect to being border counties. … That’s not really accounted for in the rural tax base. It’s incumbent upon the federal government to think about the needs they have … and help them be able to provide those services, as well as those services we provide directly through Customs and Border Protection and Border Patrol.”

Yet both men emphasized that expanding facilities and upgrading technology will not overcome the long-standing problem of insufficient staffing at the ports. A bipartisan immigration and border security package negotiated in the Senate recently stalled after Republicans in Congress declined to support it. Pacheco said it included funding for 1,900 agents on the border.

“We could have 20 commercial lanes, we could have 30 lanes — if we don’t have enough customs people to man the lanes, it doesn’t matter. Concurrently with expanding the lanes, you’ve got to put more boots on the ground there.”

expansion, Santa Teresa Port of Entry, U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, border security