'Articles from 2007' Category

RVs to use commercial facility at Lukeville

Thursday, October 25th, 2007

LUKEVILLE, Ariz. (AP) – Good news for Arizonans who travel to the northern Mexico seaside city of Puerto Penasco (PWAIR’-toh pen-YAHZ’-coh), or Rocky Point.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection is launching a pilot program at the Lukeville Port of Entry aimed at speeding up the time it takes to cross the border into Arizona on peak travel days.

Every Sunday and Monday, starting this weekend, all RVs and vehicles towing trailers will use the port’s commercial lanes.

Other passenger vehicles will continue to use the normal lanes.

Officials hope the program will allow the screening and processing of more vehicles and people during peak travel days and times, which typically occur between noon and 7 p.m. on Sundays and Mondays.


Weekly Fishing Column: Mexican trip is now convenient

Thursday, October 25th, 2007

By Phil Friedman
Aero Mexico announced on Wednesday that beginning October 30th, it would offer direct flights from Los Angeles International Airport to Puerto Penasco in the Mexican state of Sonora.

The cost will be $260 plus tax for roundtrip airfare and will take approximately two hours from Los Angeles. Direct flights will depart LAX on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays.

Puerto Penasco, also know as Rocky Point, was first established as a fishing village along the sandy beaches of the Sea of Cortez in the 1930’s. As the blue shrimp population declined, Puerto Penasco started its transformation from a small fishing village to a popular vacation destination. In 2006, Puerto Penasco attracted 2.1 million visitors.

“Puerto Penasco has so much to offer,” said Veronica Catalan, liaison from the Mexico Tourism Board in Los Angeles. “It is a family-oriented place with beautiful sandy beaches, warm Sea of Cortez waters, golf, Bird Island (Isla San Jorge) where you can swim with sea lions and see a vast variety of different birds. There are fantastic natural wonders like El Pinacate Volcanic Reserve with over 600 craters and great sportfishing.”

“Not only that,” Catalan added, “but it is a very affordable place and now only two hours from Los Angeles.”

A one-bedroom condo on the beach will run you about $160 a day, according to Rafael Venezuela from Rocky point reservations.

“That includes use of kayaks, a great gym, as well as access to a variety of sporting activities and more all with a stunning view of the Sea of Cortez,” she said.

There are no billfish in this part of the Sea of Cortez. Anglers usually fish from seven to 15 miles offshore and focus mostly on bottom fish.

“It is not unusual to catch 50 to 100 fish per angler on many trips,” said Barbara Olszewski from Rocky Point Boat Charters. “April through June is a great time to catch grouper in the 80- to 125-pound class as well as pinto bass from 20 to 35 pounds and many other species. We have very few trips where our anglers don’t catch anything and we catch fish year-round.”

Other species caught in Puerto Penasco include flounder, red snapper, rock bass, sierras, triggerfish and at times, good yellowtail fishing. You can charter an entire boat for 6 anglers for as little as $360 for a day on the water.

There is also spectacular clamming available for $10 a trip.

“We go out about one hour before low tide from the middle of September to the end of June,” Olszewski said.


Border Governors Conference comes to a close

Thursday, October 25th, 2007

Agreements established in seeking to increase competitiveness, ease ports of entry, and assure environmental protection.

By Jose Antonio Perez
Agreements to increase competitiveness in the region, facilitate crossings between Border States, preserve health and assure environmental protection, among other steps, were established by the governors and representatives participating in the Plenary Session of the XXV Border Governors Conference in this port, which came to a close on Friday, September 28th.

The agreements were outlined in a joint declaration issued by the state leaders from the US/Mexico border following two days of work tables, meetings held behind closed doors, and social events, in which various common problematic border themes were addressed.

The results of this binational gathering, now in its 25th year and which aims to improve living conditions for the 13 million inhabitants along the shares border, were drawn up into 28-page documents signed by the governors and representatives of the two governors unable to attend.

In their statements during the Plenary Session, which served as a closing to the event and lasted for nearly two and half hours, the eight governors insisted on the need for binational cooperation to take on problems of immigration.

Sonora Governor Eduardo Bours Castelo brought the XXV Border Governors Conference to a close, stressing the joint agreements made at the working roundtables. He stated the priorities should continue to be transformation of infrastructure, care for the environment, health, and security of our borders.

All of this, he exclaimed, with the common objective of guaranteeing a free, safe, just and prosperous border for the two nations.

“We can achieve this objective if we work, not from our economic strengths of weaknesses, but rather from our shared principles” , he explained.

Bours Castelo emphasized that, as governors, they have the opportunity to change the tide- to not do what has been done before- and to transcend the established limits.

He added they defined five principal areas of opportunity for economic development in the region, including: Commercial Integration, the Convergence of Technology, Medical Clusters, Tourist Developments and Infrastructure for Development.

The Sonoran leader furthered that they must not falter in promoting the presence and influence of the North American Development Bank (NADBANK) on both sides of the border, as it is a very important institution helping to improve the quality of life of people while protecting the environment.

“We must strengthen the NADBANK and above all facilitate its operations in the areas with the most need for infrastructure in the region”, he expressed.

Governor Eduardo Bours presented in requesting more support from the federal governments of Mexico and the United States, Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano indicated that federal executive officials cannot satisfy the needs of the border through speeches, as funds are necessary to show that the border is a priority.

Similarly, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger affirmed that in the area of immigration, border security must be guaranteed, yet in adherence to the law.

He stressed that immigration, competitiveness and the environment continue to be priority themes for them to work on. However, they must not think solely on the upcoming year or Governor Bours for his efforts in assuring the success of this event and without lessening that of past gatherings stated that this has surely been the best.

“Bours established a high level in the area of hospitality and efficiency for the meeting,” Schwarzenegger remarked who will be the host of next year’s conference.

He reiterated the importance of Mexico President Felipe Calderon’s participation in the event, because it shows that Calderon takes the work of the border governors seriously and knows that its time to work jointly in order to confront problems.

With a film directors clapperboard in hand, the California Governor enthusiastically shouted Action! To symbolically mark the beginning for the next Border Governors Conference, to take place in Hollywood, California in 2008. He concluded his speech with another popular phrase from his movies: Hasta la vista, baby!

Bours calls on overcoming old geographic divisions to build more solidarity region. The new global architecture demands overcoming old geographic divisions in order to build more supportive regions emphasized Sonora Governor, Eduardo Bours Castelo, as the XXV Border Governors Conference got underway in Puerto Peñasco.

After joking about a recent horse riding accident that left him with four broken ribs, the Sonoran leader remarked that it was urgent to go beyond the concept of sister cities to become “allied cities” in order to jointly tackle global challenges.

Towards this end, he declared the importance of thinking globally and acting locally, as well as for fulfilling strategic investments in infrastructure that support economic growth along the border.

He highlighted innovations in the organization of the Conference and the application of the work mode based upon the Sonora-Arizona and Arizona-Mexico Commissions.

Bours Castelo emphasized the study of “Competitiveness and Areas of opportunity in the Border Region” as one of the principal achievements obtained as President of the Border Governors Conference.

He detailed that this study was part of an exhaustive analysis of the socio-economic and demographic situation of the Border States. The principal recommendation from the study is to establish strategic investments in infrastructure in order to strengthen economic growth throughout the region.

“I have no doubt that, in executing the proposals, we are going to increase competitiveness on both sides of the border,” he highlighted.

The Sonoran state leader stressed that regardless of their size, governments know that the safety and welfare of the community is their greatest responsabilty and therefore it is necessary to make important decisions, but above all, put them into practice.

He remarked that the path to follow can be no other than that of cooperation, collaboration, shared responsibility and joint action.

The border between Mexico and the United States, as well as any region in the world, he stated, confronts dangers and common threats that range from terrorism to drug trafficking and international organized crime.

He affirmed that consequently, just as their shared concerns for drug trafficking, it is necessary to put the same emphasis towards illegal arm trafficking, which is easily carried out from one country to the other.

Bours was forceful in pointing out that on the community safety agenda, there cannot be issues of greater or lesser importance.

The Sonoran Governor addressed the inclusion of the theme of global warming and indicated that Sonora was the first state in the country to sign an agreement to enter into the Climate Registry.

He stressed that furthermore; the sum of capital, knowledge, and social, civic and ecologic awareness will allow for processes and will contribute to improved living conditions for the entire population.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, serving as Vice President of the Border Governors Conference, indicated that this event marks twenty five years of joint work. He added that in being more than neighbors, they (the two nations) are friends and have become united in a spirit of cooperation, prosperity and understanding.

“We are proud of being partners in something as important as this and this is to protect the environment; we share air, water, land, beaches and coasts and just as we share the future, we must protect our natural resources,” he declared.

In paraphrasing one of his often quoted movie lines, Schwarzenegger noted he has been coming to Mexico for more than 40 years and always says: I will be back.

He remarked on the importance of the presence of Mexican President Felipe Calderon at the gathering as often, when the Border Governors Conferences convene, things are held up because there is a notion that: “… this is a federal issue, we need permission of the federal government, we need to ask the federal government.”

“But this time, with the presence of President Calderon, we no longer need to say that. It is going to be a perfect meeting because all of the decisions are able to be made here, it is going to be the best conference, “he explained.

The California Governor paid recognition to Governor Eduardo Bours for the passion he has given to public service and for his outstanding work as President of the organization.

Attendees of the XXV Border Governors Conference included: Governors Jose Reyes Baeza from Chihuahua, Natividad Gonzales of Nuevo Leon, Eugenio Elorduy of Baja California, Humberto Moreira of Coahuila, Eugenio Hernandez from Tamaulipas, as well as Governor Janet Napolitano from Arizona, and Arnold Schwarzenegger from California. Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico as well as Texas Governor Rick Perry both sent representatives to the event.


Thursday, October 25th, 2007


Prevention is the foundation of a healthy community. With this in mind, work is being done to assure there are at least 20 thousand healthy homes in Puerto Peñasco, or rather, that all the homes in the city are prepared to reduce health risks, affirmed Jose Raymundo Lopez Vucovich, Secretary of Health. In an exclusive interview, Lopez Vucovich denied the possibility of a hepatitis epidemic in Peñasco and remarked that there had been significant strides made through various programs to decrease illnesses within the community. He stated that in a recent meeting concerning the goals of Plutarco Elias Calles (Sonoyta) and Puerto Peñasco, he was proud to report that, through the commitment of municipal authorities and health workers, they are achieving important success in the area of health. Lopez Vucovich outlined that over the last four years the unprecedented investment of 900 million pesos has been made in Sonora during a curatie phase, as opposed to 22 million applied during the previous gubernatorial administration.  Furthermore, he added, work is being done within the community to raise awareness concerning how to prevent illnesses and improve health in order to prevent spending so much on curing sicknesses; hence the importance of 20,000 healthy homes in Puerto Peñasco. With respect to rumors of a hepatitis epidemic in this city, the Secretary of Health stated that there wasn’t one. He explained that recent studies indicate that incidences of this illness have not been concerning or alarming. Lopez Vucovich reiterated that Peñasco is healthy and that both tourists as well as residents can enjoy the city and the variety of food, including seafood, offered in the area. He commented that for the current state government, drug addictions represent the number one health problem. He noted they are working on different fronts to attend to the 15% of the population suffering from addictions, while preventing 85% of the population not affected by this problem to stay clear of addictions.

The “Charro De Mexico” Makes Puerto Peñasco Sing

Wednesday, October 24th, 2007

By Ivan Bravo Lopez

As part of the festivities for the XXV Governor’s Conference, the “Charro of Mexico”, Vicente Fernandez, came to Puerto Peñasco to perform for 15,000 people, among them were governors of Mexico and the US.


From a very early hour the locals, as well as the tourists started singing some of Vicente Fernandez’s melodies at the Governor’s Plaza; a happy mood hung in the air and the excitement of adults and children was visible. They all tried to get to the best seats to see Vicente Fernandez up close.

It was not until 10pm that a charro with a rough but educated voice started singing to the audience. Song after song, without taking a break Vicente “Chente” Fernandez showed no signs of tiring. A simple and humble person with a career spanning 40 years thanked the governors for having invited him to such a historic conference.

The favorite song of the night was “Volver Volver”, the 15,000 people in the audience sang along with the Charro of Huentitan. They even joined him for the unmistakable charro scream “ahhh haha haaaaa” that represents Mexican joy, passion, and above all such an unforgettable moment for Puerto Peñasco. “Chente” Fernandez sang and delighted the public for more than 3 hours. For those who were not able to get one of 2,000 better seats had to conform to seeing the show on one of the 6 giant screens available that night.

Some of the people in the audience that had seen Vicente Fernandez’s career from the start said, “I like more the rancheras, such as beautiful songs like El Rey, Tu Camino y el Mio, among others. Others wanted to hear “Sonora Querida” or “Cuatrero.” One thing was certain though; the “Charro Mexicano” pleased everyone in the audience. Among the most entertained were Eduardo Bours Castelo and Janet Napolitano, who were impressed by the greatness of Vicente Fernandez. They even came near to the balcony from which they were enjoying the show. The special balconies for the governors were placed next to the stage for the 6 Mexican governors and the 2 U.S. governors, as well as representatives from New Mexico and Texas. They all thoroughly enjoyed the show.

There was a little bit for everyone at the show. Some people even dressed like Vicente Fernandez. It was a magical night at the new bayside, now called the Governor’s Plaza. In a show that lasted more than three hours, the public was eager for an encore. The “Chente” pleased his audience by closing the show at 1:30am with the legendary “Volver Volver.”

Sea turtle return to Rocky Point has hopes on the rise

Monday, October 8th, 2007

By Dan Sorenson

arizona daily star

An endangered sea turtle, pushing the northern boundaries of her species’ range, buried dozens of eggs on a Puerto Peñasco beach, headed back out to sea, and left wildlife authorities in Mexico with a problem.

The Olive Ridley sea turtle, a rare visitor in the north end of the Sea of Cortez, is considered endangered in Mexico and threatened in some other areas.

And a clutch of eggs deposited by another Olive Ridley on a nearby Puerto Peñasco beach last year failed to hatch, said Alejandro Castillo, a biologist at the Centro Intercultural de Estudios de Desiertos y Oceanos (the Intercultural Center for the Study of Deserts and Oceans), better known as CEDO.

Castillo said he suspects the northern gulf’s extreme high tides — which can be well over 20 feet and push the high water mark over a mile on shallow beaches — probably caused mold growth on last year’s clutch of turtle eggs, killing them.

Turtles normally lay their eggs — sometimes more than 100 in a clutch — above the high tide line. There, he said, they incubate for 52 to 58 days before hatching with the tiny turtles scrambling to the sea.

In this year’s case, Castillo said, the manager of the beachfront Hotel Playa Bonita called CEDO the morning of Sept. 21 when residents reported seeing the sea turtle depositing eggs. Castillo arrived in time to see some of the eggs being laid, and realized they were also probably too far below the high water line to survive.

But because the Olive Ridley sea turtle is listed as endangered in Mexico, Castillo said, he could not move the eggs to higher ground. He called a federal government wildlife biologist who came up from Guadalajara to investigate.

Meanwhile, Castillo said, the residents marked the location of the buried eggs and tried to keep people out of the area.

He said the federal wildlife biologist chose to move the 70-some eggs to the Mayan Palace resort hotel, about 25 miles south of downtown Puerto Peñasco, commonly called Rocky Point, the popular Sonoran beach town about a four-hour drive southwest of Tucson. The new luxury resort has a staff biologist and a wildlife protection program for seabirds.

While an employee at the Mayan Palace said he was not able to comment on the turtle eggs’ status, CEDO’s co-director, Rick Boyer, said the appearance of the endangered species in Puerto Peñasco might be good for ecotourism.

“It’s one of those natural events that very few people have gotten to see. It’s rare, a spectacular event in and of itself, and has conservation implications,” said Boyer.

He said the appearance of Olive Ridleys laying eggs in Puerto Peñasco two years in a row suggests “conservation efforts further south are working. We don’t know whether they were here a hundred or thousand years ago. Either they are returning or expanding their nesting ground. It’s good news for turtles.”

If the turtles do become regular residents in the northern gulf, they could cause even more excitement.

Although the two most recent Olive Ridley appearances were solo visits, most egg-laying occurs in mass events when hundreds of Olive Ridleys come ashore in events known as arribadas — arrivals, said University of Arizona marine biologist Katrina Mangin.

She said the egg-laying turtles are also remarkable for returning to the same beaches where they were born, even if that means traveling hundreds or thousands of miles.


Local assistance urged for ports of entry

Thursday, October 4th, 2007

Schwarzenegger vows to raise issue to Congress

PUERTO PEÑASCO, Sonora – The nation’s top border official said businesses that want to speed the flow of goods and people across the border should put their money where their mouths are.

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff acknowledged the backups for cars and trucks trying to enter the United States from Mexico. It can take hours to get across the border.

Chertoff said his agency is doing more, including adding more lanes at existing ports of entry and developing high-tech approaches to speed crossings.

But Chertoff, in an exclusive interview with Capitol Media Services, said the federal government has only so much cash to increase the size of existing ports of entry and build new ones. He said local dollars might be the only way to make an immediate and significant difference

“The communities down here and the business folks down here are going to have to get together and decide how they’re going to finance the infrastructure, how they’re going to deal with the environmental issues,” he said.

Chertoff’s comments came in response to complaints about the long wait times at ports of entry from governors on both sides of the border at their annual conference.

Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano complained that the number and size of border crossings have not kept pace with the explosive growth of the region, a situation she said sometimes results in a “parking lot” on the southern side of the border.

“A lot of our border infrastructure went in in the mid-’70s,” she said. “Arizona was a much smaller state then. And California has the same problem.”

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called it “inexcusable” that it can take up to five hours to get into the United States. He said it’s more than a problem of inconvenience.

“We know that this is a huge hazard for the people’s health when you have cars backed up by the thousands and thousands every day throughout the whole day,” he said.

Schwarzenegger, who took over at the end of the two-day meeting as president of the border governors group, promised to make this a top issue during his yearlong tenure “to make sure that we go together as governors to Washington and that Washington knows they need to do something about it.”

Nuevo Leon Gov. José González complained that exports from his country to the United States have increased 400 percent since 1994 while imports from the U.S. are up 300 percent. But he said that the number and size of border crossings has not kept pace.

Eugenio Elorduy, governor of Baja California, called it “intolerable” that people who need to go to work each day, go to school or simply want to visit the United States are forced to sit in traffic for hours at a time. The crossing at Tijuana in his state is one of the worst along the border.

He said that Mexican President Felipe Calderón has promised to help with resources from his government to increase the number of ports of entry.

“Now, what we need is for the U.S. government to do its part,” Elorduy said.

Chertoff said he understands the financial obligations of the federal government.

“But the budget competes also with things like collapsing bridges, highways in the interior,” he explained. “So if I were interested in getting things moving quickly, I’d come forward as local communities and local businesses to put something on the table and say, ‘We can do this, and maybe the federal government can do something else.’ ”

He said there is precedent for this, set by some communities in Texas.

“They did get the business community to work with local government to actually fund a big part of the expansion of infrastructure,” he said.


More stable Mexican economy would aid U.S. border efforts

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2007

Mexican president Felipe Calderon is supposed to be a little more conservative and a little bit more in tune with the current political climate in the United States than predecessor Vicente Fox. But Calderon sounds quite a bit like Fox when he defends rampant migration, even by illegal means, as he did Thursday at a conference of governors from Mexico and the U.S. in Rocky Point. Capitol Media Services reported in the Tribune that Calderon called northward migration a “natural phenomenon (that is) socially and economically unavoidable.

“Mexican workers in the United States are a complement to workers, not a substitute,” Calderon also said. “Mexican workers deserve dignified treatment.”

Such statements strike many Americans as hypocritical when the Mexican army has standing orders to stop Guatemalans and other Latin Americans from drifting into Mexico, at gunpoint if necessary. But Calderon’s sentiments reflect just how critical U.S. migration has become to his country’s economy and how it overshadows domestic politics and foreign relations. Calderon has little choice but to object to a U.S. crackdown on illegal immigration as long as we refuse to open more avenues for Mexican workers to legally reach American employment.

Migration has become the key release valve for crushing poverty in a country rich with natural resources but unable to effectively utilize them. Shutting off that valve would only complicate Mexico’s attempts to reduce widespread drug trafficking and murder in its northern states, and could fuel the social unrest that frequently erupts further south.

Migration is definitely a mixed blessing for Mexico. Calderon said Thursday his country has lost many of its most talented and hard-working residents. Some critics claim such a drain of human capital has delayed the growth and evolution of Mexico’s economy by removing those with the greatest potential to generate new wealth. Still, most of those who have departed are sending a large portion of their foreign earnings back home. The Bank of Mexico estimates such remittances climbed to $22 billion in 2006, which is more money than Mexico brings in from tourism or crude oil, according to Mexidata.info.

This is one reason why the Tribune Editorial Board advocates for immigration policy reforms along with tougher border enforcement. We must significantly reduce illegal immigration, but refusing to admit more legal foreign workers could cripple the Mexican economy. An unstable Mexico likely would be at least as dangerous to the U.S. as our open borders have been.


Border Governor’s Conference Wrap-Up

Monday, October 1st, 2007

There was plenty of pomp and circumstance at the Border Governor’s Conference in Puerto Peñasco (Rocky Point), Mexico this past week, some of which I have documented in my prior posts below. I just wanted to recap a few points about the conference. My thoughts are after the jump. Please read and post your own comments on the event.

1. The conference was very well organized. I was impressed by the level of security for the main inauguration, the technology employed in keeping track of attendees (bar codes and pictures for everyone) and the large number of staffers available at all times to answer questions and to shuttle people around. The gala dinner on Thursday night was a “who’s who” of Mexican politicians and power-brokers, many of whom were able to experience Puerto Peñasco hospitality for the first time. This was a first-class event hosted by Puerto Peñasco and Sonora and I heard a lot of positive comments from attendees. Hopefully this event highlights for them the strides that have been made in Puerto Peñasco to turn it into a premiere vacation destination and encourages even more commitment from the Mexican state and federal governments to continue investing in the development of the town.

2. I’m sure some may question spending the money it took to host such a major conference in Puerto Peñasco, especially when the town (and Mexico in general) has many other pressing needs. But spending this money shows something that we are starting to see more of in Puerto Peñasco, commitment to a broader, more long-term goal – exposure of Puerto Peñasco to the world and further stimulation of economic growth in the town through tourism. Hosting such an important conference in Puerto Peñasco raises the profile of the town globally. It puts the Puerto Peñasco name in numerous media. My parents live in tiny Bluffton, Ohio, and their local newspaper, the Lima news, carried an article about the conference with “Puerto Peñasco” mentioned in it. This is important because people all around the U.S. and world will seek out the answers to questions such as “Where is Puerto Peñasco?” and “What about Puerto Peñasco made such a distinguished group of politicians and diplomats chose to meet there?” – regardless of what the articles were about.

3. While mentioning Puerto Peñasco, press coverage in the U.S. generally was confined to President Calderon’s remarks on immigration, Governor Schwarzenegger’s one-liners and Governor Napolitano’s tough talk about border security. I don’t know what information the press was provided about Puerto Peñasco, but I was hoping that some of them would take the time to focus on all the strides the town has made and its future needs as it grows. Not sure if the press just got lazy and reported on the easy stories at the major conference events, or if the conference organizers didn’t take the proper initiative to get the press out of the conference and take them around town to showcase the town a little more. If it wasn’t provided, a press packet in English and Spanish with before and after pictures of the town, a list of accomplishments to date and a list of the planned commercial infrastructure developments (including Rocky Point airport and roads) would have been helpful. Despite a temporary lull in the real estate market, the town will continue to expand and grow by leaps and bounds over the next 25 years (very similar to how – despite the current real estate slowdown – Phoenix isn’t going to suddenly quit rapidly expanding). So I was hoping there would be a little more lifestyle/tourism side reporting done about the town.

4. I expect the conference to act as a springboard for even more investment and development in Puerto Peñasco. Governor Bours effectively used the conference to roll out Puerto Peñasco’s red carpet to a wide range of attendees – many of whom are very influential decision-makers. These attendees will carry their impressions of Puerto Peñasco back to their communities and spread the word about the growth to date and the incredible potential of the town, further cementing the long-lasting effects of the Border Governor’s Conference.


New group to help Mexican farm workers find legal jobs here

Monday, October 1st, 2007

SAN LUIS RIO COLORADO, Son. – Mexican farm workers can’t find jobs and many find it difficult to go through the legal venues.

On the other side of the border, local growers are unable to find enough people to produce the labor.

Based on these two findings, the Project Manos Unidas (United Hands) and Catholic Relief Services (CRS)-Mexico created the Centro Independiente de Trabajadores Agricolas (CITA), or the Agricultural Worker Independent Center, said Erica Dahl-Bredine, CRS-Mexico Country Manager.

Members of CRS, Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas with the Tucson Diocese, Father Manuel de Santos with the Diocese of Mexicali, Mayor Larry Nelson and members of Yuma County Interfaith, CITA director Janine Duron and others met Thursday in San Luis Rio Colorado for the introduction of the program and a tour of the CITA facility, located in Callejon Kino and 21st Street.

With the support of the Mexicali and Tucson dioceses and Yuma County Interfaith, the nonprofit organization was established to improve the quality of life for farm workers and their families by helping them through legal procedures to obtain necessary papers to work in the U.S.

At the same time, the agency will pair workers with agricultural contractors, mainly those at a smaller scale, who need to raise their work force.

“We hope to encourage cooperation from our two countries and find legal avenues for people to cross the border to do necessary work and (be able) to provide for their families,” Kicanas said.

CITA also provides an alternate way to cooperate with current immigration policies with legal opportunities for workers and employers to secure the work force for the farm, he said.

The first phase of the project is to start filing H-2A forms for farm workers and then pairing them with employers who have signed and agreed to abide by a code of conduct, Dahl-Bredine said.

This will ensure that farm workers will have fair working conditions and employers will have committed workers that will get the job done, Duron said.

The H-2A temporary agricultural program establishes a means for agricultural employers who expect a shortage of workers to bring nonimmigrant foreign workers to the U.S. to perform agricultural labor temporarily or seasonally, according the U.S. Department of Labor Web site.

So far, 500 workers have been placed in jobs and their visas are being processed. The hope is to have 800 or more workers placed in jobs this season, Dahl-Bredine said.

Organizers hope CITA will also be a place of resource for workers and employers to find conflict resolution, health insurance information, training and even create a burial benefit.

An additional office in Yuma is planned soon, Duron said.

Although the recruitment of workers has only been through word of mouth, Duron has already been “inundated” with requests for work. She’s also received a “very good” response from the growers who she hopes this “will help them grow the right way.”

Juana M. Gyek can be reached at jgyek@yumasun.com or 539-6872