Eliminating Arizona's 'invisible wall': the push to expand acces - Tucson News Now

Eliminating Arizona's 'invisible wall': the push to expand access for Mexican visitors

There's a new push to let some frequent border-crosser to go deeper into Arizona. (Source: KPHO/KTVK) There's a new push to let some frequent border-crosser to go deeper into Arizona. (Source: KPHO/KTVK)
Border Crossing Card. (Source: KPHO/KTVK) Border Crossing Card. (Source: KPHO/KTVK)
MESA, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -

Visitors from Mexico spend nearly $3 billion in Arizona each year, but for many frequent border-crossers, Phoenix is essentially off-limits.

That's because millions of Mexicans with a travel document called a Border Crossing Card must stay within 75 miles of the border. Going beyond that invisible wall forces them to cross extra red tape.

Several lawmakers and groups like the Maricopa Association of Governments are trying to give Mexican visitors more access to Arizona by extending the "border zone" to cover the entire state.

"Many of the people that currently have a Border Crossing Card or who will get one in the future are using that card to come in and shop, recreate, do all kinds of things that benefit the Arizona economy," said Michael LeVault, chair of MAG's Economic Development Council.

A 2008 study found Mexican visitors spend nearly $7.5 million in Arizona each day. MAG plans to formally petition the Department of Homeland Security to change the border zone area in the coming days.

U.S. Representatives Matt Salmon (R-Arizona), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona), Trent Franks (R-Arizona), Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Arizona), and Martha McSally (R-Arizona) sent a letter last week to U.S. Customs and Border Protection asking the agency to revise the 75-mile rule.

“As you are well aware, the Mexican citizen who is the holder of a Border Crossing Card is the most carefully scrutinized and vetted of any U.S. visa holder. They have a nearly flawless record of abiding by the rules of their visa, with the lowest overstay rate of any visa card group (less than one percent). Although hard data is difficult to find, it also appears that this group has an extremely low incidence of any arrest for criminal activity while within the United States,” the representatives wrote. Click here to read the full letter.

Unlike holders of a Mexican passport, Mexicans with a Border Crossing Card can visit the U.S. an unlimited number of times without additional visa paperwork as long as they remain in the border zone. Each stay must be less than 30 days.

The card is for leisure or business travel only; it offers no work privileges.

“These are not the hombres that are trying to sneak across the border in the desert. These are middle-class Mexicans for the large part that are wanting to come here and take advantage of our economy and spend money in Arizona,” LeVault said.

A study by the University of Arizona estimated the expanded border zone would generate an additional $181 million in spending per year and create about 5,000 jobs, LeVault said.

The border zone exists in Arizona, New Mexico, California and Texas. In 2013, federal officials expanded the border zone in New Mexico from 25 miles to 55 miles. The border zone in California and Texas is 25 miles from the border.

Copyright 2016 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

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