For more than a century, a bridge between Laredo, Texas, and Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, has provided more than just a way to get to each of these border cities. On Feb. 17, during a ceremony honoring George Washington’s birthday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Acting Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said it has helped cultivate a richer understanding between all of the peoples of the Americas.
“I am truly honored to be here in Laredo for this special annual event that celebrates the profound friendship between our two countries with a symbolic ‘Abrazo,’ – or ‘hug,’” he told a crowd of about 200 people from both sides of the border. “As I was listening to the beautiful renditions of the national anthems, I couldn't help but feel great pride in the symbolism that each of us show to the other countries’ national anthem. Hearing them sung in succession reminds us of our geographic proximity as well as our cultural closeness. We are good neighbors to each other. And, in fact, our shared border – stretching 2,000 miles – makes ours one of the world’s biggest neighborhoods!”
With $1.4 billion in two-way trade and hundreds of thousands of border crossings every day, the 10 U.S. and Mexican border states are home to nearly 100 million people and are roughly equivalent to the world’s fourth largest economy. The South Texas area is considered a major economic powerhouse, as more than 47 percent of U.S. international trade headed for Mexico and more than 36 percent of Mexican international trade crosses through the Laredo–Nuevo Laredo ports of entry.
The Acting Commissioner also visited a recently rebuilt CBP cargo entrance area. The ceremony honoring Washington’s birthday goes back 120 years. It began as a diplomatic gesture, attracting little attention. Now, the event at the Juarez-Lincoln Bridge – one of the busiest ports of entry – has grown into what the Acting Commissioner said is “a meaningful, bicultural celebration that is the border,” common ground for the millions of people in Mexico and the U.S.
The annual event includes festivals, carnivals, concerts, fun runs, and an international hug by four children symbolizing the U.S. and Mexico, along with dignitaries from both sides of the border. Acting Commissioner McAleenan was chosen as “Señor Internacional,” recognized by the League of United Latin American Citizens Council No. 12 for his role in the strong ties between the two countries.
“I can honestly say that our relationship is stronger today than it ever has been before,” the Acting Commissioner said. “And this didn’t happen in a vacuum. It has occurred as a direct result of the hard work each of our governments and communities do each day to maintain open lines of communication. What is good for the public safety and economic security for Mexico, is good for the U.S.”
U.S. Customs and Border Protection is the unified border agency within the Department of Homeland Security charged with the management, control and protection of our nation's borders at and between the official ports of entry. CBP is charged with keeping terrorists and terrorist weapons out of the country while enforcing hundreds of U.S. laws.