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San Diego
Wednesday, May 22, 2024

New Executive Director at San Diego-Tijuana Smart Border Coalition

INTERNATIONAL: Luken Brings Extensive Binational Experience

With the economic impact of cross-border travel between the U.S. and Mexico in the billions and rising every year, the San Diego-Tijuana Smart Border Coalition is continuing its work to make border crossings between California and Baja California more secure, efficient and welcoming for people and cargo.

According to the Smart Border Coalition, which was founded in 2007 and operates under the Border Philanthropy Partnership, there are 112 million annual crossings by 45 million cars and 2 million cargo trucks, with an annual $51 billion in value of goods.

The SBC’s mission toward championing creative and practical solutions to improve movement for travel through ports of entry at the border got a boost with the recent hire of Coronado resident Joaquin Luken as its new executive director.

Joaquin Luken
Executive Director
San Diego-Tijuana Smart Border Coalition

Luken was selected to replace Gustavo A. de la Fuente after a search committee selection process led by binational business leaders Hank Morton, Steve Williams, José “Pepe” Larroque, Eduardo “Lalo” Acosta and Elias Laniado.

“It is a great privilege to lead the Smart Border Coalition,” said Luken, 46. “At a time of great change in local, regional, state, national, and international economies, governments, and society, cross-border leadership is more imperative than ever to finding opportunities for continued prosperity in our region.”

Luken said the “uniqueness of Tijuana and San Diego is very hard to replicate anywhere else in the world, where you have such a direct and intrinsic relationship, where people go back and forth for school, work and activities and where it’s the largest border crossing in the world.”

Williams, SBC selection committee co-chair and founding partner of San Diego real estate investment firm SENTRE, said Luken has a deep understanding of the U.S.-Mexico border region.

Steve Williams
San Diego-Tijuana Border Coalition selection committee

“He’s a local guy who grew up on both sides of the border,” Williams said. “He’s not just bilingual, he’s also bicultural with so many friends on both sides of the border. His connection to stakeholders in the region will help grow SBC and the collaboration among binational leaders that is critical to our shared vision of a prosperous border region.”

Born in San Diego and raised in Tijuana, Luken, a business administration graduate of Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey with a Certificate in Global Strategy & Management from USD, took over in mid-January as the nonprofit’s leader.

After graduating from the Instituto Tecnológico, Luken had planned on a business career in the Monterrey industrial hub. But after talking to friends and family, he decided to move back to the United States where he felt he could do more.

“They said, ‘You’re binational, you’re a dual citizen and you speak good English, you could really make a difference,’” Luken said. “It hit me like a ton of bricks. In Monterrey, I could be ‘the other guy who speaks English’ or I could come over here and make a difference.”

Only the Beginning

Luken’s significant binational business experience includes working for the Otay Mesa Chamber of Commerce from 2000-05 with longtime Executive Director Alejandra Mier y Teran.

At the chamber, he was involved in some the earliest stages of various border-related developments including the Cross Border Xpress airport terminal connecting San Diego with the Tijuana International Airport which opened in 2015, and California state Route 905 becoming a freeway connecting Interstates 5 and 805 in San Ysidro to the Mexico border around 2010.

He was part of focus groups for the growth and expansion of the Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection (SENTRI) pass, including when SENTRI moved from being under the direction of the Department of Justice’s Immigration and Naturalization Service to the Department of Homeland Securities’ Customs and Border Protection in 2003.

SENTRI allows pre-approved, low-risk travelers to re-enter the U.S. from Mexico as pedestrians or in vehicles by using special lanes at the border.

Luken also previously was a partner in Alternative Media Revista Tu Casa, a real estate and home improvement guide for Tijuana and the South Bay, and owned JL Venture Group, Inc., an e-commerce business.

Luken said board members and stakeholders are SBC’s biggest strengths and that his first order of business will be to meet with the SBC’s 25 board members and listen to what they have to say.

“We’re a proven concept, this group,” Luken said. “We’ve created great things. I think going to every board member and listening… we’ll have a new route being taken for the SBC. We just want to try to focus on a few things we can really, really accomplish, instead of being so dispersed and moving on so many things at the same time. We really want a few slam dunks made soon.”

One of those may include one of the spots where people cross over by foot.

He said while he was heartened by the recent re-opening of San Ysidro Port of Entry’s Pedestrian West – after three years of closures related to the pandemic – an important connection for the thousands of travelers who use it, many have expressed disappointment with its current limited hours of 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., a far cry from its former 24-hour operation, and the fact that it is only open going northbound from Tijuana to San Diego.

San Diego-Tijuana Smart Border Coalition

HEADQUARTERS: Liberty Station
BUSINESS: Nonprofit organization
REVENUE: $250,000 (self-funded by members)
SOCIAL IMPACT: The coalition brings forward ideas to reconceptualize the border in the interest of prosperity and security. The coalition identifies challenges and provides frameworks for dialog, information sharing, the building of professional relationships, the development of specific initiatives, and the monitoring of implementation
NOTABLE: The Smart Border Coalition was directly inspired by San Diego Dialogue, formed in 1991 as a distinctive collaboration among UCSD, the region’s emerging high-tech business leaders and people from downtown San Diego’s established banking, real estate and tourism sectors


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