More staff at borders could mean shorter lines

Published on Thu, Oct 18, 2001 by Meg Olson

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More staff at borders could mean
shorter lines

By Meg Olson

Local borders eased up a little this week as ten additional immigration and naturalization service (INS) inspectors were assigned to Washington state ports of entry.

“We’re still in a high security situation and we’re not backing off from that, but the wait times at both the Peace Arch and the Pacific Highway have been pretty serious,” said INS deputy district director Bob Okin. Okin said the additional inspectors were experienced INS staff reassigned from other agency functions. “What it means is an extra lane open at both Peace Arch and Pacific Highway.” he said. “The majority are going to those two ports but we will also distribute them to other Northwest ports of entry.” Okin said two additional inspectors were needed to keep a lane open for eight hours.

Customs port director Peg Fearon said she expected her agency would follow suit and send in more inspectors. “I think it’s in the cards but I don’t have any specifics,” she said.

Okin said passenger traffic at the border had declined by at least 25 percent since September 11 but was starting to increase again, especially on the weekends. “The last two weekends in particular have been fairly busy,” he said. On the commercial side, Fearon said traffic in September was down 17 percent from last year.

U.S. Representative Rick Larsen said additional bodies at the border was key to helping local communities recover from the effects of the September 11 attacks. “This will be a huge first step in getting our local economy back on track,” Larsen said. “While the rest of the nation works to get back to normal my goal for the border is to do even better than that.”

Larsen was one of a strong majority in the house of representatives who voted October 12 to approve a sweeping anti-terrorism bill which will direct substantial new resources to the northern border. If approved by the Senate and signed by the President the bill would triple the number of border patrol, INS and customs agents stationed on the northern border and give customs and INS $50 million each to develop technology and buy equipment to improve northern border monitoring.

“With more agents at the border we will be able to keep out the bad traffic and encourage the good,” Larsen said. “Finally we will have increased resources to address our burden at the border.”

The anti-terrorism bill also directs government agencies to share more information and authorizes additional surveillance tools. “The anti-terrorism bill is a balanced bill that provides new tools for law enforcement officials to fight terrorism while maintaining civil liberties for American citizens,” Larsen said.

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