A Visionary Thinker: Ana Hinojosa Inspires Others to Work Together to Create More Efficient, Secure Borders
Six years ago when Ana Hinojosa was the director of field operations for U.S. Customs and Border Protection in El Paso, Texas, she invited a group of Mexican customs officials to tour the U.S. port of entry in Santa Teresa, New Mexico. As they walked the facility, Hinojosa presented how the two countries could facilitate trade by setting up a cargo pre-inspection site on the Mexican side of the border.
“She showed us how CBP officers could jointly pre-inspect cargo with Mexican customs officials at the Foxconn electronics manufacturing plant in San Jerónimo, Mexico, and we liked it. Within a matter of minutes, she convinced us and we said, ‘Yes,’” said José Martin Garcia, the representative of the Ministry of Finance, Taxation, and Customs Affairs at the Embassy of Mexico in Washington, D.C.
For some, accomplishing such a feat would be unusual, but not for Hinojosa, who excels at bringing people and governments together to achieve their common goals, especially with coordinated border management issues. “In the 15 years that I have known Ana, she has always been, as we say in Spanish, “dispuesta,” willing to move things forward, always finding a solution,” said Garcia.
For example, two years ago, when Hinojosa arrived in Washington, D.C., to start her current position as CBP’s deputy assistant commissioner of international affairs, she played a key role in creating port security committees that were designed to resolve real life, day-to-day safety and security issues at all of the U.S.-Mexico border crossing points. “Before Ana arrived, we had agreed in principle on what we call business resumption protocols, but the final product materialized when she arrived in Washington,” said Garcia. “Because of her hands-on knowledge, we were capable of testing these protocols and turning them into port security committees that we can rely on.”
Hinojosa, who is a candidate for the World Customs Organization’s, WCO, director of compliance and facilitation position, has been actively involved in border related issues for years. “She’s been at the border and she knows the issues,” said Garcia. “The U.S.-Mexico border is one of the most complex borders in the world. Not only because it’s 2,000 miles long, but it is one of the busiest, most economically important borders in the world, and it has given Ana a very solid technical background.”
As a consequence, Hinojosa’s expertise has been tapped. “For years, we have created working groups to manage and develop initiatives. Some working groups are related to information technology, others pertain to trade facilitation, capacity building or secure flows. With all of these initiatives, you need to have technical knowledge and the diplomatic skills to negotiate with other countries. Ana has the rare combination of both. This is when you see her in action,” said Garcia. “She leads those discussions.”
One of the most significant accomplishments that Hinojosa participated in was the signing of a mutual recognition arrangement between the U.S. and Mexico’s supply chain security programs. The arrangement, which was signed last October, between CBP’s Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism, or C-TPAT, and Mexican customs’ Nuevo Esquema de Empresas Certificadas, or NEEC, is one of the largest mutual recognition arrangements in the world involving two border countries that are among the top five economies globally.
“Ana was part of the CBP negotiating team that helped make this happen,” said Garcia, who explained that one of the most important benefits for program participants is a reduction in wait-times at the border. “They want to cross the border faster to save time and money. But for customs on both sides, it’s a challenge,” he said. “Our infrastructure and our procedures need to align, so that we can deliver these benefits to the participants.”
Garcia noted that Hinojosa has been integral in making this happen too. For example, “at Ciudad Juárez- El Paso, we are completely rebuilding the port on our side. Traffic is congested at the port and trucks wait for a long time until they reach the bridge to get into the lanes to the U.S.,” he said.
“But it was Ana who immediately raised her hand and said, ‘Wait a minute. Let’s take this opportunity to make a model we can use at all of the border ports. Let’s have dedicated lanes for the trusted trader program participants before they reach the port so they arrive in the U.S. in a smoother manner,’” said Garcia. “To make a long story short, the project on the Mexican side includes all of Ana’s recommendations and when the new port opens in November 2015, we’ll have dedicated lanes for participants and be able to deliver the benefits.”
Since 2012, Hinojosa has been working on bilateral initiatives with Canada and Mexico as part of the Beyond the Border and 21st Century Border Management action plans respectively. “We’ve been working on ways to make the movement of people and goods across our borders more efficient and more secure,” said Hinojosa, who is working in tandem with a number of domestic and international agencies to accomplish these goals.
“Ana has played a leadership role in developing positions for the U.S. government on the objectives we’re trying to accomplish under the Beyond the Border Action Plan,” said JonAnn Flemings, chief of planning and operations for the Foreign Agricultural Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “She has a keen eye for identifying bumps in the road, problems on the horizon. A lot of times she would see issues well before anyone else on the team and find ways to get over some of the hurdles.”
Hinojosa also encouraged others to speak. “She was instrumental in pulling together a process that made sure that everyone’s voice was heard. It was key to finding a compromise,” said Flemings, who also noted the effectiveness of Hinojosa’s style. “It’s important to keep the momentum going. Ana is very good at keeping everyone engaged because she sees what is important to you, to me, and to the team as a whole,” said Flemings. “She’s a hard charger about helping people stay properly focused and keeping their eyes on the ball. But at the same time, she has a soft edge and knows how to bring everyone into a safe zone to work in.”
According to Hinojosa, coordinated border management is about expanding the scope of communication and transparency. “It’s about bringing more people together to listen to their ideas and collectively make the best decisions,” said Hinojosa. “You make smarter decisions because you’re taking more angles into consideration, so you’re armed with better information to make better decisions moving forward.”
Part of Hinojosa’s success stems from understanding the work of other government agencies. “Ana has seen firsthand all of the vulnerabilities of importing and exporting products into and out of the United States,” said Domenic Veneziano, director of the import operations division of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, FDA.
“The knowledge that she brings to the table is invaluable, especially when addressing enforcement challenges at express consignment and international mail facilities,” he said. “Understanding those vulnerabilities, the limitation of resources, the process of products coming into a country and leaving a country is imperative. To truly solve the problem, you need to understand the problem and understand the depth of the issues. You also need to understand the different requirements for different agencies. And from my point of view, I think she’s seen it all. She’s worked with FDA in the field, she’s worked with FDA at the headquarters level, and she understands the process of international mail facilities and express consignment centers.”
But perhaps the greatest reason for Hinojosa’s success is her talent for bringing people together with a common interest and inspiring them to achieve their goals. One noteworthy example occurred in El Paso in 2010, when Hinojosa was instrumental in getting a collaborative partnership among law enforcement agencies off the ground. The partnership, known as the West Texas-New Mexico Alliance to Combat Transnational Threats, used a whole of government approach to fight criminal activity on the U.S. Southwest border. “There was a lot of apprehension among the agencies, but Ana had the vision of where this effort needed to go and being a forward thinker, she took the bull by the horns and said, ‘We’re going to do this.’ and ran with it," said Dennis Ulrich, the assistant director of domestic operations for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, who was the special agent-in-charge of the agency’s El Paso office at the time.
“We had buy-in from the Department of Justice—the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration came to the table. So did our state and local counterparts including smaller, local police departments, the sheriff’s office, and even the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which had never been involved in an effort like this before,” said Ulrich. “All of the senior leaders were committed to working together. We developed a deep connection and it’s largely because of Ana. She brought all of us together and showed us we could all be friends. We didn’t need to be working against each other.”
Ulrich noted that Hinojosa’s talents could be similarly helpful to the WCO. “Ana is a very intelligent woman. She’s a visionary. She can see things,” said Ulrich. “Just give her a little bit of an idea and her mind races. She sees the finish line before anybody else does and can bring everyone together for a successful outcome.”
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.