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A cowboy works at an international cattle crossing in Santa Teresa, N.M., along the U.S.-Mexico border. PHOTO: Russell Contreras/Axios.

A border town in New Mexico saw record cargo crossings last year and is thriving despite the fallout from the pandemic and increased migration from Central America.

Why it matters: The explosive growth of Santa Teresa, N.M. shows how international trade demand remains strong at the U.S.-Mexico border even as retail businesses in border cities have struggled because of COVID-19.

Between the lines: The small Santa Teresa Port of Entry is in need of major renovations to keep up with demand.

  • That puts it at the intersection of two major Biden administration efforts: to pass more than $2 trillion nationally in infrastructure spending, and to contain a migration surge at the border.
  • Periodic jumps in migrants seeking asylum in the U.S. divert needed border personnel from Santa Teresa, slowing traffic and affecting the industrial area's production.
  • "What happens to us is that you now have to take a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer that's clearing cargo and merchandise off the line to process those asylum seekers," Jerry Pacheco, president and CEO of the Border Industrial Association, tells Axios.

By the numbers: Santa Teresa's industrial base of 6,000 workers now accounts for 60% of New Mexico's total global exports, surpassing Albuquerque, a city of 560,000 people, according to state data,

  • Exports include steel coil, livestock, electronic parts, textiles for car seatings, and other materials.
  • The industrial enclave just west of El Paso, Texas, experienced a slowdown at the beginning of the pandemic — but by last July, Santa Teresa was seeing unparalleled levels of truck traffic coming from south of the border. The record jump highlights its connection to high-demand products like wind turbine blades built in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.
  • Santa Teresa is developing a million square feet of new industrial space, said Pacheco, whose nonprofit runs the industrial park. He said that he recently recruited three Taiwanese companies and expects to announce new international companies later this year.
  • Across the border in San Jerónimo, Mexico, a growing Foxconn plant manufactures Dell products for the U.S. market — and a factory opened recently that makes gummy candy.

How it works: The Santa Teresa industrial park was created in the late 1980s and remains unincorporated. The Border Industrial Association operates as a quasi-municipal government made up of business leaders.

  • The Santa Teresa Port of Entry operates daily from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. and is less busy than crowded ports of entry in El Paso and other parts of Texas.

Go deeper

Border Democrats seek asylum revamp, more help from feds

Rep. Veronica Escobar. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call Inc. via Getty Images

Two border-district Democrats in Congress are pressing the Biden administration to revamp the asylum process, saying the current migrant surge is highlighting significant flaws in the system.

Why it matters: These lawmakers say the administration needs to start making concrete changes by summer. "If it's this bad in 90 days, it's hard to have excuses," Rep. Vicente Gonzalez told Axios.

Harris to visit Mexico and Guatemala to address "root causes" of border crossings

Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

Vice President Harris said Wednesday she plans to visit Mexico and Guatemala "as soon as possible" in a diplomatic effort to address surging migration at the U.S.-Mexico border, Reuters reports.

Why it matters: The number of unaccompanied minors crossing the border has reached crisis levels. Harris, appointed by Biden as border czar, said she would be looking at the "root causes" that drive migration.

8 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Democrats brace for staredown over paid family medical leave

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Senior House Democrats are braced for battle with the Senate over whether paid family medical leave — a key priority for progressives — will be included in President Biden’s final budget reconciliation bill, lawmakers and aides tell Axios.

Why it matters: Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has indicated he wants to cut the program to reduce the bill's price tag. “Paid family and medical leave must be in the final package,” Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, told Axios on Monday.