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Border 2010: The New Paradigm for Border and Transnational Studies

"This report on the U.S.-Mexico border aims to aid policymakers in forging stronger and sustainable U.S.-Mexico bilateral relations with the use of more coordinated approaches to border issues. This study investigates the important role of border institutions, civil society, cross-border transnational populations and localized, small-scale problem-solving as a first defense against the deteriorating conditions on the border."7 – Baker Policy Institute, Rice University

UTB/TSC is strategically located on the border and in the largest urban area at the southeastern most tip of Texas on the border with Mexico and anchors the eastern end of the U.S.-Mexico border. Therefore, UTB/TSC is uniquely positioned to play a leadership role in the study of the lower border region. What makes the Texas Center for Border and Transnational Studies unique is its focus on rapid response to the study of problems an issues through applied and evaluative research, utilizing an interdisciplinary approach which includes the collaboration of faculty and students along with community based stakeholders and governmental agencies. An example may be drawn from the economic benchmarking study conducted at UTB/TSC in 2003 entitled, "Cameron County/Matamoros at the Crossroads: Assets and Challenges for Accelerated Regional and Bi-national Development," which examined the potential for regional cross-border economic development in the Brownsville-Matamoros region.8

Beginning at the western end of the border, studies have been conducted by San Diego State University9 and by their neighbor, The College of the Northern Border (COLEF) in Tijuana,10 for more than thirty years, but only infrequently in the lower border region. While a component of The College of the Northern Border  is located in Matamoros across from Brownsville, collaboration between UTB/TSC and COLEF is scant, and that must change. Notable attempts have been made, over the years, to expand scholarship from California eastward along the border. However, the 2,000 mile border has a daunting geography most noted by its isolated populations and regions.

The Arizona and New Mexico borders with Mexico are principally desert areas without substantial border town development and without border universities. Recently, Arizona State University has begun a border studies initiative, the North American Center for Trans-border Studies (NACTS). It also has a long established component, the Hispanic Research Center (HRC). In the future, NACTS and HRC will serve as a substantial partner with the Texas Center for Border and Transnational Studies at UTB/TSC, anchoring the middle section of the border along with The University of Texas at El Paso.

The U.S.-Mexico border next to Texas has seen a major investment in higher education infrastructure in the last 20 years with the South Texas Border Initiative through which the University of Texas System. It has benefited from the establishment of two new components, The University of Texas-Pan American and The University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College. They joined the long established and respected University of Texas at El Paso. Additionally, three UT Health Science Centers, UTMB Galveston, San Antonio and the School of Public Health at Houston have long histories of working and collaborating on the border. Therefore, the UT System brings substantial capacity and collegial collaboration to the study of the U.S.-Mexico border with the Texas Center for Border and Transnational Studies at UTB/TSC.

"Texas faces an impending crisis regarding the health of its population, which will profoundly influence the state’s competitive position nationally and globally."11– Code Red 2008

The center will create and form a natural component for the collaborative study of the U.S.-Mexico border led by all UT System border institutions. Additionally, Texas A&M International University at Laredo and the Texas A&M Rural School of Public Health in McAllen serve as the higher educational connect in those critically important border cities. Established by statute by the Texas Legislature, The University of Texas at El Paso, Texas A&M International at Laredo, UT-Pan American and UTB/TSC all have Centers for Economic and Enterprise Development (CEEDs), which work collaboratively with the Cross-Border Institute for Regional Development (CBIRD)12 at UTB/TSC. UTB/TSC is proposing a Center for Sustainable Economic Development, which will serve collaboratively in the role as initiators of border economic development.

Working in collaboration with the border CEEDs, the Texas Center for Border and Transnational Studies shall be dedicated to applied research on the lower U.S.-Mexico border, which is intended to expand our knowledge on border issues contributing to their solution and mitigation. At the conclusion of the first decade of the 21st century, there is simply not enough research and scholarship being conducted on border issues. The border requires the establishment of a consortium of border research centers spanning the length and breadth of the border engaged in and dedicated to the serious study of border issues. Additionally, border political institutions, such as counties and cities, have not been supported in the development of the physical and social infrastructure necessary to support the coming population. The future success of border communities is based upon their ability to improve socio-economic conditions, and this must be seen as a critical international issue and not simply as a local one.

For example, the city of Brownsville has recently completed work on a strategic comprehensive plan entitled, "Imagine Brownsville."13 One aspect of that plan which pertains to the health sector, was conducted by UTB/TSC School of Business faculty and graduate students, who conducted focus groups, collected data and identified that Medicaid and Medicare enrollment was grossly underutilized by Brownsville populations. Brownsville Medicaid and Medicare enrollment is about 17 percent less than that of Laredo which is a similar size market. This realization is currently leading to the development of a focused plan to increase enrollment including an evaluation model which will describe the actual increase in enrollment realized by neighborhood. The UTB/TSC faculty and graduate students have also identified 25 potential research project ideas that emerged from the study and have entered into a collaborative relationship with IC² at The University of Texas at Austin.14 This team of UTB/TSC and UT Austin researchers will be conducting health-care delivery research in Brownsville with a comparative model across the border in the city of Matamoros. UTB/TSC faculty has voiced interest in conducting their research through the Texas center. This is a concrete and actual example of the type of research to be conducted by the Texas Center for Border and Transnational Studies in collaboration with UTB/TSC's proposed Institute for Human Health, IH².15

The center will conduct research studies that will have immediate local and regional impact and that will also influence policy making at the national level of both countries.

Since the cross-border region is plagued by limited employment opportunities and low-paying jobs, border communities find it difficult to muster the resources necessary to support the mounting influx of migrants seeking services. The border is in desperate need of technology transfer which will support new jobs and economic development along the lower Texas-Mexico border.

As the border increases in population, especially on the Mexican side of the border, and with the increasing exit of industrial jobs overseas, the increasing economically inactive population presents mounting challenges in the areas of crime rate, law enforcement and the public safety of border communities in general. It is believed that a large unemployed population contributes to the crime rate, and while this may be partially accurate, the fact remains that economic development along the border must come from new high technology types of jobs and not those that pay minimum wage. Examining this public safety issue, the Texas center will initiate a program intended to communicate Mexican and American Law across borders for the benefit of both law enforcement and attorneys.

Finally, there is only limited existing communication and cooperation for the solution of border problems across the border. While some well-meaning collaboration between U.S. and Mexican institutions of higher education does exist, they have been principally involved in research and not the applied solution to social and economic problems. It is believed that cross-border higher education partnerships may serve as the catalyst needed for improved and sustained dialogue. Partnerships may lead to the formation of a critically needed cross-border regional planning authority.

7 Baker Institute Policy Report #38, 2009.
11 University of Texas System, Code Red 2008, p.9
13 Imagine
15 UTB School of Business and former UTB CBIRD Director, Dr. Pablo Rhi Perez

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