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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Signs Point To Thawing Arizona-Mexico Tensions

Volaris flights from Phoenix to Guadalajara began in October and flights to Mexico City begin in December. (City of Phoenix Aviation Department)

Volaris flights from Phoenix to Guadalajara began in October and flights to Mexico City begin in December. (City of Phoenix Aviation Department)

There are signs that relations between Arizona and Mexico are on the mend. That’s after Arizona’s immigration enforcement law provoked deep tensions a few years ago.

From the Here & Now Contributors Network, Jude Joffe-Block of KJZZ and Fronteras Desk reports that local leaders are making an effort to boost trade and tourism.




From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young. It's HERE AND NOW.

And there are signs that relations between Arizona and Mexico are on the mend. You'll remember Arizona's immigration law, SB 1070, caused a lot of tension a few years back. Now Jude Joffe-Block of KJZZ and the HERE AND NOW Contributors Network finds local leaders working to boost trade and tourism.

JUDE JOFFE-BLOCK, BYLINE: Here at the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, about 120 jets take off every week bound for Mexico. But that wasn't enough, so the city courted the Mexican airline Volaris to offer new flights, including a nonstop to Mexico City that starts this week.

DEBORAH OSTREICHER: In recent years, demand to and from Phoenix and Mexico has been growing.

JOFFE-BLOCK: Deborah Ostreicher is the airport's deputy aviation director, and she says the new flights are part of a conscious effort by the city to create more links with Mexico.

OSTREICHER: Because it really is our largest trading partner. It's very important to us. And we want to offer more air service so that people can come and go to and from Mexico.

JOFFE-BLOCK: Not too long ago, Arizona was internationally known for its efforts to crack down on illegal immigration from Mexico. Now local mayors are seeing legal Mexican visitors as key to economic development. Marie Lopez Rogers is the mayor of the Phoenix suburb of Avondale. She says one year just before the recession, 24 million Mexicans visited the state.

MAYOR MARIE LOPEZ ROGERS: They spent $2.7 billion.

JOFFE-BLOCK: Lopez Rogers wants to see that number grow. She's working with local leaders on a proposal that would allow Mexicans who have border crossing cards to visit the entire state instead of just the zone 75 miles north of the border they can visit now. It reflects a change in the mood from just a few years ago.

ROGERS: I think the mayors have realized that, you know, we can't continue down the path of being afraid. We need to embrace. And we've taken a couple of trips into Mexico and talked to our counterparts, and I think that we realize that there is a great economy there.

JOFFE-BLOCK: The recession made clear to many leaders that Arizona needed to diversify its economy away from just real estate, says Erik Lee. He directs the North American Research Partnership, a think tank focused on the continent.

ERIK LEE: At the end of the day, you have to make and sell stuff to folks to grow your wealth, to grow your economy. Mexico is right there as our go-to customer internationally.

JOFFE-BLOCK: But relations between Arizona and Mexico grew downright chilly in 2010 when Arizona passed its immigration enforcement law, SB 1070. Now, Lee says, it is notable who is pushing to repair the relationship and boost trade.

LEE: In the wake of the SB 1070, local leaders around the state have really taken a leadership role, which was historically the prerogative of the state of Arizona.

JOFFE-BLOCK: For example, the Phoenix City Council has just approved opening a trade office in Mexico City early next year. It will be the only permanent presence Arizona has in Mexico's capital. The City Council is also working on a number of projects with the Mexican consulate. They include a cultural center in Phoenix that will showcase Mexican and Mexican-American exhibitions. Roberto Rodriguez Hernandez is Mexico's newly appointed consul general.

ROBERTO RODRIGUEZ HERNANDEZ: This cultural center is going to be not just a message, but a symbol of unity, a symbol for a new beginning, a symbol of new opportunities.

JOFFE-BLOCK: Now that tensions are thawing, the hard work of boosting cross-border trade can begin. In recent years, each of the other border states have enjoyed substantial gains in their exports to Mexico. What remains to be seen is if Arizona can catch up. For HERE AND NOW, I'm Jude Joffe-Block in Phoenix.

YOUNG: And Jude's story came to us from the Fronteras Desk, a public radio collaboration in the Southwest that focuses on the border, immigration and changing demographics. You're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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