A unanimous vote Tuesday by City Council to help lead an effort toward beautifying the border, including the possibility of a welcome center at the foot of the Paso Del Norte bridge in Downtown.
More than four million pedestrians crossed Northbound into El Paso on the Paso Del Norte bridge last year and Council, with support from El Paso's Congressman and Senator, believe we're missing an opportunity to be more inviting to our visitors from South of the border.
"We all agree we need to see something positive when visitors cross into our community," said City Rep. Emma Acosta.
"We have to shower, we have to put on some lipstick and we have to make ourselves presentable," added City Rep. Cortney Niland. "The way we currently welcome individuals into our community is just pathetic."
Added City Rep. Steve Ortega: "If I was a Mexican National living in Juarez, U would not come to El Paso. It's an insulting experience."
Strong words from members of City Council, who want to see changes to the area around the Paso Del Norte bridge.
"When we commissioned a report in 2008, over half of the El Paso retailers said that at least 50 percent of their business comes from Mexican Nationals," Ortega pointed out.
Currently people crossing into El Paso on the Paso Del Norte bridge have barbed wire and rock walls on their right and barriers on their left. Members of City Council pointed out it's a much different experience crossing the Canadian border.
"It's very, very different when you cross the Canadian border," Acosta said. "You cross from Mexico and you start seeing barbed wire. I mean, it's something that's really depressing."
Added Niland: "It's not the same here and so I think we're treated differently and that's really inappropriate."
"I wish they had better landscaping," said Belinda Diaz, a Juarez resident who crosses the border daily to attend UTEP. "I think that we should create an atmosphere that supports the economy versus a place that doesn't look so nice and it's not so inviting."
Business owners in the area agreed.
"It's not very welcoming as you can see," said Joe Hernandez, owner of the store La Quinta on El Paso Street. "For instance, as you can see we don't have any information. People stop by and ask, "Where's the bus station? Where would be a close hotel?' They even ask if we have restrooms. That's something that happens every day."
City Manager Joyce Wilson pointed out that at the heart of this issue is what she called a "philosophical disconnect" when it comes to the federal government's enforcement at the ports of entry and what locals and the current City Council sees as an asset.
Customs and Border Protection Spokesman Roger Maier told ABC-7 that they consider the Paso Del Norte bridge, where $12 million was just invested "a model port and probably one of the best looking facilities on our border."