Mayor Arturo Garino says his two-day visit last week to Washington, D.C. - part of an ongoing White House-sponsored program featuring community leaders from across the country - served as an eye-opener for the Obama Administration.
Garino said he told administration officials that additional government investment at Arizona's ports of entry and a stronger trade relationship between U.S. and Mexico could play a crucial role in the future of Nogales and the nation.
"What (the officials) are looking for is how they can serve and help the border region," Garino said Monday. "Not everyone understands the problems along the border."
Mayor Ken Miyagishima of Las Cruces, N.M. and Mayor Tony Martinez of Brownsville, Texas also participated in the discussion that came as part of the Champions of Change meeting at the White House on Friday.
Garino didn't have a chance to speak with President Obama, but he met with Jon Carson, director of the Office of Public Engagement, during a meeting at the White House's West Wing. Garino said Carson was "very interested to know what's going on with the border so he can relay the information to the president."
"(Carson) was informed on problems and crime at the border," Garino said. "But he was not informed about the opportunities we have with Mexico."
The mayor said he emphasized that the federal government can help the U.S.-Mexico trade relationship by addressing issues like immigration reform. Once the immigration issue is solved, he said, it will be easier to focus attention on job opportunities and trade in the border region.
"They understand the security part of it, but they don't have a grasp on the whole thing," Garino said. "I guess they needed someone from Arizona that lives at the border to tell them what it's all about."
Garino said he also spoke with Obama Administration representatives about how federal stimulus money, like the $200 million earmarked for the renovation of the Mariposa Port of Entry, has helped Nogales. He said he hoped the message would encourage the president to visit the city.
"Supposedly stimulus money didn't do anything, but we see it working here," Garino said. "That's why it's important for the president to come to Nogales."
Garino said he hopes his lobbying efforts will help Nogales get the attention it deserves from the federal government. And he wants community members to do their part as well to demonstrate the opportunities here.
"We may have to be a little more forceful, that's how we're going to get these things done," he said. "Hopefully, we'll continue having this conversation (with the government), because some of these issues were an eye-opener for them."