SANTA TERESA, N.M. (AP) — If you visit Mexico, when you wish to cross north back across the border into the United States, you'll need a passport.
There are others, though, that, once they pass a physical inspection, can just run right across.
On any given day at the Santa Teresa International Export/Import Livestock Crossing, hundreds and even thousands of head of cattle come through a gate in the fence that marks the border between the U.S. and Mexico. This year, Daniel Manzanares, director of the facility, said he expects to break the 400,000 head of cattle mark, the most ever.
"That'd be a record," Manzanares said. He said more than $200 million worth of cattle passes through the crossing — which literally straddles the international border — each year.
The facility, which is 21 years old and 35 acres in size, can hold as many as 4,400 head of cattle on any given day.
Manzanares came on board five years ago when much of the facility looked like desert. Now, there are rows and rows of pens and throughways for the cattle to be driven or culled.
In the past five year, more than $1 million in infrastructure improvements have been put into the facility, which is owned by a co-op of Mexican ranchers, the Union Ganadera Regional De Chihuahua CO-OP Inc. A United States Department of Agriculture grant of about $50,000 was used to install new cameras.
"We're completely under security surveillance at all times," Manzanares said.
"This is amazing," said Bill Mattiace, executive director of the New Mexico Border Authority, which oversees every port along the state's border. "If you see pictures of what this used to look like, it's really come along."
The USDA works on the Mexican side of the border and has an office to inspect all the animals and make sure they are free of ectoparasites and ticks. They conduct TB tests and ensure the animals' tag numbers are correct with the paperwork.
Conversely, on the U.S. side, Mexican health officials inspect anything going into their country.
"We have to maintain a certain animal health level," Manzanares said. "If for any reason they have a question, they will not let the animal come across."
He said that he has about nine to 25 workers on hand, depending on the time of year and how many cattle are crossing, but he tries to keep as many as he can to help with maintenance work.
He said most of his workforce are Mexican Americans with U.S. citizenship, and there are a few legal residents from Mexico there to work.
"The bottom line is it is very hard to find Americans who want to work anymore," Manzanares said. "I'm an American, but ... they'll work here maybe a paycheck, maybe two paychecks and then they're gone."
There's also the security aspect of working right on the border. At any given time, U.S. Customs vehicles with a blue stripe or U.S. Border Patrol with the green-stripe trucks can be seen at the facility, sometimes right up next to the gate.