FORT BLISS, Texas -- Numerous U.S. and Mexican dignitaries attended the official grand opening of the U.S. Consulate General in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

The new $66 million, four-story facility will employ about 300 people. It includes 109 service windows where Mexican immigrant visas and American border crossing cards and travel documents will be processed. It is the largest U.S. consulate in the world.

Antonio O. Garza Jr., U.S. ambassador to Mexico and the keynote speaker for the event, said the impressive consulate was overdue and built in Juarez because of the $1 billion in trade and the more than a million people who cross the border. He said one of his constant goals as an ambassador has been to make sure people in Washington and Mexico understand border issues.

"But we don't do just visas," Garza said. "We are representatives who cooperate with Mexican authorities on immigration, law enforcement and trade. We are working on deepening and multiplying the ties that bind both sides of the border by promoting cultural and education programs to deepen understanding between Americans and Mexicans."

During his tenure, Garza traveled throughout Mexico listening to people's concerns regarding the security of their children and communities. He said the U.S. government has also heard about the issues and that is why it has pledged to work as a friend and neighbor to confront common goals, Garza said.

One of those pledges is the Merida Initiative, a $1.4-billion bill that over several years is going to provide very concrete assistance to the Mexican government in their fight against drug trafficking, said Brig. Gen. Sean MacFarland, commanding officer of Joint Task Force North. Assistance will include training, detection equipment and aircraft.

"I think the opening today sends a tremendous signal to the Mexican people," said MacFarland. "It tells them we place a high degree of importance in our relationship with the people of Mexico and specifically the people along our border, in facilitating better cooperation and stronger ties between the two countries. It was great for us to be here today. We enjoy working with our counterparts in the law enforcement agencies on both sides of the border. It is a good relationship and it's getting stronger every day."

The Juarez consulate dates back to the 1800s where a staff of four provided assistance to American citizens in need. After a mining industry developed and the railroad was brought into Paso del Norte, bilateral trade increased significantly drawing more U.S. companies and tourist to the area.

Today, Ciudad Juarez and El Paso are North America's third largest manufacturing center and forms the largest bi-national metropolitan area along the entire U.S., Mexico border. It is the world's busiest, handling the most immigrant visas of any such facility. It is the only site in Mexico to apply for U.S. immigrant visas.