AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- U.S. and Mexican border-state governors on Thursday began a two-day conference seeking to find common ground on issues of immigration and border security.
The governors, meeting at the Texas Capitol, were expected to discuss a proposed joint declaration sponsored by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson that would establish a cross-border law enforcement task force that would target human traffickers, drug smugglers and other criminals.
The declaration also would call on both federal governments to criminalize border tunnels, with significant penalties for people who break tunneling laws.
Schwarzenegger, Richardson, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano and the governors of the Mexican border states of Sonora, Baja California, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas were involved in the mostly closed-door sessions.
The United States and Mexico must find a way to expand trade and improve the economy of both countries while still securing the border from would-be terrorists, drug smugglers and human traffickers, Perry said as he kicked off the opening ceremony of the 24th annual Border Governors Conference.
"We are bound not only by a common border but by a common future," he said. "Simply put, our prosperity must be shared or it will be short lived."
The meetings prompted several small, mostly peaceful protests throughout the city, including one outside the conference hotel that drew about three dozen people who want immigrant soldiers deployed in the Middle East to be granted citizenship.
Perry had said he most wanted to talk about border security and getting the federal government to pay more of the tab. He has said he will ask the Legislature next year to allocate $100 million to continue Operation Linebacker, a border security program the state launched in the past year.
While touring the Texas-Mexico border on Thursday, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said the number of people arrested while trying to sneak across the border has dropped by one-third since the federal government stepped up enforcement and detention procedures. He said he believes that indicates that illegal immigration has dropped as well.
At the opening ceremony later that day, Chertoff touted the president's guest worker plan and said both countries need to address the "powerful economic draw" that is bringing immigrants to the United States.
"If we do not address that draw, we are trying to essentially violate the law of supply and demand," he said.
Juan Bosco Marti Ascencio, an official with Mexico's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said his country has worked hard to improve economic and social conditions in its communities so people are not forced to leave for the United States.
But he emphasized the importance of balancing security and the efficient flow of goods and people between the two countries.
"As many people on both sides of the border say, more bridges and fewer walls are needed," he said.
U.S. House and Senate members have passed differing bills this year dealing with immigration and border security, but they've yet to work out the differences in the two versions.