Sen. Martha McSally and Rep. Greg Stanton this week introduced companion bills in both the Senate and the House to expand tourism and recreation in Arizona. The Southwest Tourism Expansion Act would create a pilot program to allow certain visitors from Mexico who already have permission to enter the United States to travel throughout the state of Arizona.
Current law limits Mexican nationals with a valid Border Crossing Card from traveling outside a designated travel zone from the port of entry through which they enter without applying for an additional federal I-94 form and paying a fee. For example, a card holder entering through Nogales is only permitted to travel as far as Tucson, limiting business and recreational opportunities in the central and northern parts of Arizona. McSally and Stanton’s pilot program would waive the I-94 form, effectively expanding the travel zone statewide.
“Arizona is open for business and when we allow approved visitors into more areas of our beautiful state, we unleash the potential for greater economic growth, more jobs, and additional sales tax revenue,” Sen. McSally said. “Our bill would start a pilot program allowing Border Crossing Card Holders to reach popular Arizona tourist destinations and businesses, generating hundreds of millions in dollars in additional annual spending.”
“This is an economic stimulus bill—it’s a common-sense change that will open Arizona to more business, more tourism, and more economic opportunities,” said Rep. Stanton. “Our state benefits in so many ways from a strong relationship with Mexico—and a pilot program that invites Mexican nationals to explore and invest more throughout our entire state can only strengthen those ties.”
“Arizona’s strong relationship with our neighbors in Mexico supports jobs and economic prosperity on both sides of the border,” said Gov. Doug Ducey. “The Southwest Tourism Expansion Act is a win-win that will promote tourism from Mexico and strengthen our partnership. My thanks to Senator McSally and Representative Stanton for their work to grow Arizona’s tourism and economy.”
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema and Rep. David Schweikert joined McSally and Stanton as an original cosponsor of the House bill.
Specifically, the Southwest Tourism Expansion Act would create a 5-year pilot program to allow pre-cleared Mexican visitors with a valid Border Crossing Card to travel statewide—to the Greater Phoenix metro and Flagstaff, for example—without having to fill out an additional paper I-94 form or pay an extra fee. The change would remove regulatory barriers that previously prevented card holders from traveling to popular tourist destinations such as Sedona and the Grand Canyon.
During Stanton’s time as Phoenix mayor and chair of the Maricopa Association of Governments, expanding the Border Crossing Card program was the group’s top legislative priority. The resulting legislation has been more than six years in the making.
Every day, thousands of frequent, low-risk, short-term visitors travel from Mexico to Arizona to conduct business, visit family and friends, or shop—and every day they spend collectively and estimated $7.3 million at Arizona businesses. A 2015 study from the University of Arizona projects that extending the tourism and shopping zone for Border Crossing Card holders statewide would generate an additional $181 million in annual spending, increasing the spending total to nearly $3.1 billion and impacting more than 31,000 jobs.
• Tourism was the top export industry in Arizona in 2018. 45.5 million people visited the state and collectively spent $24.4 billion, supporting 192,300 industry jobs and generating $3.63 billion in tax revenue. The tax revenue generated equates to an annual tax savings of $1,360 for every Arizona household. [Source]
• Arizona’s travel zone has been expanded once before in 1999, and New Mexico’s travel zone was expanded in 2013—both expansions occurred without compromising the states’ security or economic interests. [Source]
• Travelers with valid Border Crossing Cards have been vetted at a U.S. consulate in Mexico, undergo inspection at the port of entry, and can still be referred for more involved secondary screening or denied entry at the discretion of the inspecting officer.
• Holders of Border Crossing Cards have must demonstrate ties to Mexico that would compel them to return after their temporary stay in the U.S. Penalties for abusing the Crossing Card include cancellation of the card, fines, and losing the ability to re-apply in the future.