SANTA TERESA, New Mexico (Border Report) – The U.S. and Mexico are committed to modernizing their common border to speed up lawful commerce and stem the flow of contraband such as fentanyl, President Joe Biden’s top man in Mexico said.

In a visit to the Santa Teresa Port of Entry on Tuesday, U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Ken Salazar said the two countries are engaged in projects along their 2,000-mile border that will bring about a safer border.

“What we need to do is have the right number of Border Patrol officers doing the job they have to do. We also have to be smart about it. We need to invest in the technology that is so important to a 21st-century border;” he said.

The southern New Mexico port is scheduled for expansion on the Mexican side in the next few months. On the American side, money has been approved for a feasibility study that could green-light a $170 million remake.

Federal officials and industry leaders are paying more attention to the Santa Teresa crossing since Texas Gov. Greg Abbott last April directed the Department of Public Safety to conduct enhanced inspections of trucks coming from Mexico. The comprehensive checks meant to discourage migrants and drugs from crossing the border only lasted a few days but had a multi-billion-dollar impact on commerce.

U.S. Rep. Gabe Vasquez, D-New Mexico, said Santa Teresa is a safety valve for the lawful transit of goods should Texas go after cross-border truckers again.

“It’s slowing down commercial traffic and Santa Teresa is supposed to ease that congestion. That’s why we’re building a bypass so you can go straight to Interstate 10,” Vasquez said. “When they try to stop that commercial traffic from coming into their state, I think that’s just a silly decision. We need the international trade that we benefit from here and American jobs depend on that.”

Passenger vehicles cross the Santa Teresa, New Mexico, port of entry into Mexico. (Border Report photo)

On the issue of discouraging illegal migration and the flow of drugs from Mexico to the United States, Salazar said the administration has outlined a clear strategy and will be taking members of Congress to see the situation in Mexico first-hand.

“Many borders don’t work. The U.S.-Mexico border has to work,” he said. “As we see an unprecedented flow of migration we have to do three things. First, we have to create hope in countries like Guatemala. Second, we need to ensure the borders between all those countries work. Third, we have to provide a legal pathway so that people who are looking for jobs can find jobs that Mexico and the U.S. have available.”

As far as stemming the fentanyl epidemic linked to many of the 107,000 drug overdose deaths reported in the United States last year, Salazar emphasized the importance of addressing both the supply side as well as the demand.

“We have a fentanyl action plan that continues to be implemented. We’re trying to do everything we can to stem the flow of drugs that come from China and sometimes from Mexico and then the United States and going after the criminal organizations that are fomenting that kind of trafficking,” he said.

Salazar capped his visit to the Southern New Mexico-West Texas region with a binational event at El Paso’s Chamizal Park, celebrating friendship with Mexico.