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Ruben Barrales

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San Diego's Borders Are Abundant with Commerce, Not Crime

Posted: 03/30/11 02:28 PM ET

San Diego is home to one of the most vibrant economies in the country and part of what makes our region so prosperous is its proximity to the Mexican border. Yet this is not what people outside the region often hear about. Instead, they hear tales of drug cartel kidnapping, robbery and other crimes.

Disparaging, hyperbolic rhetoric on border security and safety in the region must stop. It is not only inaccurate; it's damaging the economic well being of San Diego and every other Southwestern town that borders Mexico.

Despite near-daily inflammatory reports, the American side of our southern border is actually quite safe, and cross-border trade and commerce provides a huge economic impact for our region.

For example, crime rates in San Diego continue to plummet each year. In 2010, the city's crime rate was the lowest it has been since 1963. According to FBI data, in 2009, the city had the third-lowest crime rate among cities with populations larger than 500,000, behind only Honolulu and San Jose.

Unfortunately, these are not the statistics we read in the newspaper or hear on television. People across the county are inundated with misleading information about how dangerous it is to live, work and travel in our region.

San Diego's tourism industry is the third-largest segment of its economy, with more than 26 million visitors to the county bringing more than $5.6 billion in annual revenue. Hospitality industries continue to prosper as the city regularly ranks as a top destination for U.S. and international travelers.

Yet tourists from around the country and internationally fearful about visiting our region, due to media reports from across the border. This idea is ridiculous.

In truth, unprecedented government investment in security has given San Diego the opportunity to take advantage of all of the economic benefits of being close to Mexico, one of the city's largest trade partners. The region's two dynamic ports of entry to Mexico -- which includes the busiest land border crossing in the world, San Ysidro -- provide real incentives for businesses and job growth in San Diego.

For example, the positive economic impact of the proposed new port of entry at Otay Mesa East is estimated to exceed $31.6 billion during the first 10 years of operation. These positive impacts are projected to be geographically concentrated in San Diego and Los Angeles counties. Some industries expected to benefit the most from the new port are electronics at $19.7 billion, machinery at $4.2 billion, precision instruments at $1.8 billion and manufacturing at $1.25 billion.

As these statistics show, our border is first and foremost a place of trade, commerce and job creation, which makes our city, region, state and country better. Disparaging rhetoric to the contrary is untrue and it's hurting our region every day.

We need to project a more fair and balanced representation of what's happening at our borders and the benefits our proximity to Mexico affords our communities. It's up to each individual, business leader and government official to combat the words of critics by speaking just as emphatically about the positive impact these ports of entry provide to San Diego.

Ruben Barrales is president and CEO of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce. He also serves as a member of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Southwest Border Task Force and Community Resilience Task Force. Barrales previously served in the White House as deputy assistant to President George W. Bush, where he worked as the president's liaison to state and local elected officials.