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The Texas Center for Border for Border and Transnational Studies

The Texas Center for Border and Transnational Studies (TCBTS) was established to address critical cross-border issues and to assist in the facilitation cross-border policy decisions through the creation and support of a cross-border regional planning component.

            Introduction and Mission

The mission of the Texas Center for Border and Transnational Studies is to coordinate and conduct original research on the lower Texas-Mexico border by fostering collaboration with external international institutions and researchers interested in conducting border research for the expressed purpose of problem-solving and evaluation.

            “The U.S -Mexico Borderlands continues to be the milieu in which American and Mexican cultures adapt over the years and where the successful articulation of the two systems must be developed.  To be knowledgeable about the Borderlands region, it is critical to know its unique history, institutions, and people.”  Ellwyn Stoddard, Sociologist UT-ElPaso

The establishment of the Texas Center is critical given the need for research on pressing border issues, which will inform policy decisions directed at improving quality of life in the cross-border region.  The Texas Border Center will serve as the collaborative anchor at the lower or eastern end of the U.S.-Mexico Border.  The type and scope of research envisioned here are not currently being conducted by any institution on the lower border and only rarely on the border in general.

This Center proposal looks forward to the development of a new paradigm for Border research based on applied research intended to assist in the solution of social and economic problems.  It examines why the Texas-Mexico border from Laredo to Brownsville will serve as the Centers initial geopolitical focus for research, and this is supported by the demographic projections for this region as are anticipated from the 2020 Census.

“Among the state of northern Mexico, Tamaulipas is less developed regarding policies and institutions supporting innovation, science, and technology.  The northern states, and specifically the border cities, are the best-positioned regions for innovation.  This is confirmed by the sustainable competitive index, government program universities, and research centers. ” Jorge Carrillo, COLEF Tijuana

The U.S.-Mexico border region forms a uniquely intertwined, binational, bi-literate, and bi-cultural community.  The international boundary between the United States and Mexico is often thought of as a delimiting factor. However, it may also be considered a line that unites and defines a cross-border international region critical to the future of the United States and Mexico.

The border region is framed by Mexican states (from east to west, Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon, Coahuila, Chihuahua, Sonora, and Baja California Norte) which border on four of the United States (Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California).  While these ten states form one of the most important international boundaries in the world, they are marked by distinct regional issues, which complicate their study.

The California-Mexico border has a unique geography and socio-economic history, while the Texas-Mexico border, shared by four Mexican States has a very different micro-regional variation.  The Texas-Mexico border is not a single homogenous region.  Approximately one thousand miles in length, the upper Texas-Mexico border from Laredo to El Paso shares regional homogeneity due to environmental similarity, while different geo-demographic regionalisms define the proposed study area from Laredo to Brownsville.

It is unlikely that any single entity can or will study the entire border area.  Therefore, the proposed Texas Center for Border and Transnational Study located in Brownsville can play an important collaborative and anchoring role at the lower or eastern end of the border.  Its institutional partners along the remainder of the border will serve the cross-border regions from Laredo/Nuevo Laredo to Tijuana/San Diego.  However, collaborative studies will be conducted that encompass the entire length of the border.

Border 2010: The Demographic Reality

            “The Texas-Mexico border is a fast-growing region, a complex blend of U.S. and Mexican cultures, language, and custom.  It is a dynamic area that has benefited from a large and growing population in Mexico, rapid growth in U.S.-Mexico trade and a tenfold increase in maquiladora industry activity of the past two decades.  — Dallas Federal Reserve Bank

The U.S.-Mexico border is comprised of 24 U.S. counties in four U.S. states juxtaposed with 38 Mexican counties or municipios in six Mexican states.  The combined cross-border population was approximately 5.2 million persons in 1970 with the population more or less evenly distributed on each side of the border.  By 2000, the combined border population had more than doubled to 12.3 million with the population continuing an even distribution between the U.S. and Mexican counties.  By 2005, the border population had reached approximately 18 million and surpassed the 20 million mark in the 2010 Census. Very little has been done to sustain research on the implications of unchecked population growth along the border.

The population growth rate for the U.S.-Mexican border region easily represents the fastest population growth rate in Mexico and among the fastest in the U.S. Simply stated, the Border States, counties and cities have not been able to keep pace with the demand that this population growth rate places on their social and physical infrastructure.

The greatest single pressure on the border population is the migration rate from interior Mexican states to the Mexican border region followed by their cross-over to the U.S. side of the border.  Intense in-migration has exacerbated already existing natural birth rate demands on public infrastructure and housing, widespread public health problems, nutrition and general environmental problems; lack of employment opportunities, low levels of education, and extreme poverty.  These factors and many others have created extreme public safety issues on the border, which are evident, on a daily basis, on both sides of the border.

While Spanish is the primary language in Mexican border cities, thirty years of in-migration from central and southern Mexico has brought many indigenous languages to the border and innumerable regional cultures and cultural ways.  Therefore, Mexican border cities are stratified along both socio-economic lines as well as cultural ones that are defined by micro-cultural characteristics from throughout Mexico.

U.S. and Mexican border cities face many social challenges.  The advent of the Border Industrialism Program initiated in the late 1960s created a maquiladora industry, which seemed poised for limitless growth.  In reality, the boom lasted only about thirty years, and by 2000, American and other industry began bypassing the U.S.-Mexico border for the Pacific Rim.  In some cases, long-established American industry on the border began to leave the border after 1995.  The combined general downturn in the industrial economy in the United States witnessed since 2000, has produced a net decline in the availability of jobs in Mexican border cities at the same time that in-migration from the interior of Mexico to its border cities continues unchecked.

The population density in Mexican border towns continues to rise and the spillover of social problems and lack of essential infrastructure in U.S. border town mounts.  Local, state, and federal governments have very little contemporary and on-going research data to support informed policy decision making.

The 2010 Mexican Census indicated great overcrowding in the homes in the border cities of Reynosa and Matamoros, across from the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas.  Four out of every ten homes in these two cities were determined to be overcrowded and to lack sanitary sewer and potable water.  Thirty years of unchecked growth in Mexican border cities has taken place outside of planned urban development exacerbating already pressing social problems.

Lack of adequate educational facilities has produced a growth effect in U.S. border town school districts which is out of control and unsupportable in the long term.  Additionally, border populations are largely young, female, undereducated, and vulnerable.  These and many other localized social problems must be studied to provide leaders with policy options and solutions.  The Texas Center for Border and Transnational Studies would focus its research activity on studying localized problems in the cross-border region.

Three of the most significant Mexican border towns and their contiguous cross-border American populations are located in the proposed study area.  While the U.S.-Mexico border is comprised of many counties, the social problems and in-migration pressures are principally concentrated in ten Mexican towns and seven or so significant U.S. border towns.  The three Mexican border cities located in the lower border region, Nuevo Laredo, Reynosa, and Matamoros are expected to reach a combined population of approximately 2.0 million persons by 2020.  Immediately across the river from these Mexican cities, Texas Counties including Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr, and Willacy expected to reach a combined population of 1.5 million persons by 2020.  In the period from 2000 to 2009 all border towns, Mexican and American, have grown at an average of approximately three percent per year and this unprecedented growth rate is not expected to slow.

The James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy of Rice University has recently published a series of articles on the U.S.-Mexico border (2009), indicating that policymakers need stronger, and more sustainable bilateral relations with the use of more coordinated approaches to the study of border issues.  The Texas Border Center at Brownsville is strategically positioned to play a pivotal role in the development of the border through collaborative scholarship and participation in research.

The need to engage in intensive border research comes at a time when our nation has made great strides to distance ourselves as a nation from our Mexican neighbor.  The Baker report points out that:

            “The border should be where one can best see the benefits for the two countries of collaborating and cooperating on issues of major concern.  Instead, the border is increasingly becoming an area of tension, conflict, and unilateral policies and actions that are more likely to hinder, rather than promote, common goals” Border 2010: The New Paradigm for Border and Transnational Studies

  “The report on the U.S.-Mexico border aims to aid policymakers in forging stronger and sustainable relationships, through bilateral relations with the use of more coordinated approaches to border issues.  The study investigates the important rote 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.” Baker Policy Institute, Rice University

Brownsville is strategically located on the border, in the largest urban area at the southeastern most tip of Texas on the Mexican border, and as such, anchors the eastern end of the U.S. and Texas- Mexico border.  Therefore, it 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 and issues through applied and evaluative research through collaborative relationships with locally 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.

Beginning at the western end of the border, studies have been conducted by San Diego State University and by their neighbor, El Colegio de la Frontera Norte in Tijuana, for more than thirty years, but only infrequently in the lower border region.  While a component of El Colegio de la Frontera Norte is located in Matamoros across from Brownsville, collaboration 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 two thousand mile border has 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 border universities.  Recently, Arizona State University has begun a border studies initiative.  The North American Center for Trans-border Studies (NACTS), and has a long-established component in the Hispanic Research Center (HRC).  In the future, NACTS and HRC at Arizona State University will serve as a substantial partner with the Texas Center for Border and Transnational Studies at Brownsville and anchor the middle section of the border along with The University of Texas at El Paso.

The Texas-Mexico border has seen a major investment in border infrastructure in the last twenty years.

            “Texas faces an impending crisis regarding the health of its population, which will profoundly influence the states competitive position nationally and globally.” Code Red 2008    

The Texas Center for Border and Transnational Studies at Brownsville will create and form a natural component for the collaborative study of the Texas-Mexico border, which is intended to expand our knowledge on border issues contributing to their solution and mitigation.

The border requires the establishment of a consortium of Border Research Centers and scholars 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 on their ability to improve socio-economic conditions, and this must be seen as a critical international issue and not simply as a local one.

The Texas Center will conduct research studies that will have immediate local and regional impact, and that will influence policymaking 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 very 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 do exist.  Higher education has been principally involved in research and not the applied solution to social and economic problems

Partnerships may lead to the formation of a critically needed cross-border regional planning authority.  As we consider the creation of a Border Research Center the question must be asked, what should a Border Research Center do and what should it do first?

Border 2010: Timely and Critical Topics for Border Research

            “To frame the future, we need perspective on where we have been and where we air today.  Knowing where we are today can be difficult when the landscape beneath your feet is constantly changing.  We are only now beginning to sort out, separate, and understand how these global trends affect the United States, Mexico, and the border between them.” — Dallas Federal Reserve; South Texas Economic Trends

Cross-Border Regional Economic Development, Education, Bilingualism and Workplace Biliteracy Civil Society and Judicial frameworks for Justice Borderland Heritage and Eco-Tourism Strategic Cross-Border Urban Growth and Resource Use the Border Millennial and the Future.

Applied border research reports may be self-initiated or contracted and are intended to be short-term projects that may be completed within the context of one year.  Longer projects are possible.  Applied border research projects and reports are intended to directly inform government agencies and policymaking bodies.

The Texas Center for Border and Transnational Studies shall develop and operate an applied survey research center for the purpose of conducting survey research.  This is expected to rapidly become an essential component and will support Institutional Research.  The Texas Center’s Border Poll will provide a new and necessary skill that will be instantly sellable in the community and workplace.  The Texas Border Poll is expected to rapidly become one of the most anticipated, watched and quoted survey research polls in the American Southwest and Mexico as it examines issues and attitudes concerning health reform, veterans, the border wall, poverty, violence and women’s issues and much more.  The Texas Center’s Texas Border Poll should rapidly garner national and international attention as the “go to” institution on the U.S.- Mexico Border.  Additionally, the poll is expected to operate as an auxiliary enterprise, which will rapidly earn critically necessary revenues for the Center.

Dr. Tony Zavaleta grew up in Brownsville and is a member of one of the 13 founding families of northern Mexico. He is the nephew of Dr. Joe Zavaleta and Prax Orive, each of whom served on the TSC Board.

Dr. Zavaleta graduated from Saint Joseph Academy in 1964 and entered Texas Southmost College, graduating and transferring to The University of Texas at Austin in 1966, where he completed a Ph.D. in Anthropology in 1976. Moving back to Brownsville in 1976, Dr. Zavaleta began teaching sociology and anthropology at Texas Southmost College and at Pan American University at Brownsville. Dr. Zavaleta became the first Dean of the College of Liberal Arts for UTB/TSC, and also served as the Dean of the College of Mathematics and Science and Technology. He next served as Vice President for Partnership Affairs, where he coordinated all of the work between the TSC Board and UTB, and then became the Vice President for External Affairs, which included governmental relations and all external programs such as Workforce Training and Continuing Education. Dr. Zavaleta served as Interim Provost, the chief operating officer of UTB/TSC, and then as the Associate Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs. In 2011 he retired from the administration to return to full-time teaching. Dr. Zavaleta retired in May 2016 after 40 years of service.

Dr. Zavaleta is regarded as one of the top experts on the US-Mexico Border, and frequently speaks throughout Mexico and the U.S. Dr. Zavaleta was appointed to two Federal commissions by Presidents Reagan and Obama, and he served two terms on the Brownsville City Commission, followed by a term on the City of Brownsville Civil Service Commission.

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