The U.S.-Mexico Border is the crossroads of the Americas. Over one-half of the length of the Border lies in Texas--1254 miles. STEER’s two sites, in Laredo and Harlingen, lie approximately 146 miles apart along this border. These two areas are among the ten fastest growing metropolitan areas in the nation. As a result of economic growth, increased trade, and immigration, the population of Laredo doubled between the late 1980s and 2008, and population growth in Harlingen has been four times the national average in recent years. Laredo is now the busiest inland port in the United States. 

Rapid growth has brought great opportunity and economic benefit to the State, but has outstripped the public health infrastructure as well as the available medical resources, including trained personnel. Health care providers in the area face threats from ancient, long forgotten diseases like rabies and leprosy, re-emerging diseases like TB and malaria, as well as contemporary concerns including toxic exposures and epidemic rates of obesity and diabetes.

The metropolitan statistical areas including the cities of Harlingen, McAllen and Brownsville are the poorest in the nation, with median household incomes barely surpassing $10,000/year. Texas has more colonias than any other state, with about 500,000 people living in 2,300 colonias. Colonias are unincorporated subdivisions of trailers or substandard housing, often built on marginal land with little or no infrastructure such as sewers, potable water, roads, or electricity. Living conditions like these endanger not only residents, but also contribute to the spread of communicable diseases far from the border, through migration, tourism, and transit associated with international trade.

A few statistics about the Border Region: If this region were designated as the 51st State in the United States, it would rank:

• Third in deaths related to diabetes

• Second in deaths due to hepatitis 

• First in the number of uninsured children

• First in children living in poverty

• Last in access to healthcare accessed 7/30/08 accessed 7/30/08 accessed 8/14/07


Harlingen is in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, whose population now exceeds one million. Harlingen is one of three major cities in the Valley, along with Brownsville and McAllen. The sister cities across the Rio Grande river in Tamaulipas, Mexico, are Matamoros, Nuevo Progresso and Reynosa. 

Once a primarily agricultural area, producing citrus fruit, including the famous Ruby Red, Rio Star, and Ruby-Sweet Grapefruit, grain and cotton, the addition of tourism, manufacturing and service industries has broadened the area’s economic base. In spite of this growth, natural resources and farming remain at the economic heart of this area. The attractive UTRGV Regional Academic Health Center, where STEER students attend classes when they are not out in the community, is just a short drive from the beaches of beautiful South Padre Island The Valley is known as a major birding area and attracts thousands of birdwatchers annually from the US, Canada and Europe. National Wildlife Refuges, World Birding Center,_Texas accessed on 7/30/08