The new secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson visited the Rio Grande Valley Tuesday, touring the Texas-Mexican border for the first time since taking office.
Johnson met with local officials to discuss how U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) can help to improve not just security, but trade and tourism as well.
More than a billion dollars worth of goods move between Mexico and the U.S. every day.
The nation's southern ports of entry, right here in the Rio Grande Valley, are more important to the United States economy than ever before.
To better facilitate that trade, over the next two years, CBP will now hire 2,000 additional officers to man the nation's ports of entry, a good chunk of them moving to South Texas.
"It TMs been impressed upon me a number of times that border security is not simply border and port security, but also facilitating and expediting trade and commerce, Johnson said in a press conference Tuesday.
Congressman Henry Cuellar of Laredo joined Johnson to emphasis the importance of moving commerce across the border.
"We literally have half of everything between the U.S. and Mexico comes through this area so we need to make sure we get our fair share of men and women in blue, Cuellar said.
Also discussed Tuesday was a new provision in the recently passed appropriations bill that will allow local governments and the private sector to finance infrastructure improvements on the nation's ports of entry.
"If the private sector wants to put in money and infrastructure because the federal government doesn't have enough money they would let us, Cuellar said.
The change will now allow the city of McAllen to spend $7 million of grant money it received to add commercial lanes along the Anzalduas bridge.
"If you have an economic interest for a service you can now pay the federal government to get that service, Sam Vale said.
Changes will also be taking place on the Mexican side of the border.
The federal government also appropriated $10 million to improve infrastructure and technology on the south side of the nation's bridges.
"We do our work and help the Mexicans do their part therefore we are connected, Cuellar said.
With more officers and additional lanes on our nation's ports of entry, the hope is cut down on bridge wait times thus allowing trade and tourism will flourish.
Johnson continues his tour of the nation's southern border Wednesday in Arizona.