Border lines are ‘worth the wait’

Published on Thu, Oct 18, 2007 by Peg Fearon CBP Port Director

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Border lines are ‘worth the wait’

By Peg Fearon CBP Port Director

I have read recent letters from cross-border travelers regarding NEXUS and wait times. I would like to share with your readers a recent article written by Customs and Border Protection commissioner Ralph Basham regarding the issue of wait times:

Worth the wait
“Homeland security often is a balancing act between two ideals: vigilance and convenience. Nowhere does this dichotomy between security and facilitation play out more dramatically than at our borders and ports of entry where we work to secure our nation from those who would do us harm, while welcoming legitimate travel and trade.

One area where the balancing act is difficult is at our land border ports of entry, where wait times can reach an hour or more. While we would love to reduce this, the fact is that most of these ports were built decades ago, and frankly are straining to accommodate today’s national security operations and increased traffic.

To keep bad people and bad things from entering America, at a minimum we scan all vehicles for radiation and check all individuals for proper documents. This process is not a bureaucratic game, but a security imperative.

At our 99 land ports of entry, we processed just under 300 million people last year. We spend approximately 45-60 seconds with each person at the primary inspection booth, where we check for terror watch list matches, outstanding criminal warrants, public health and narcotics lookouts and other indications of risk. Those who present some concern and require additional scrutiny are then referred for secondary inspection.

This process has yielded approximately 25,000 arrests during the 2007 fiscal year that just ended, a 10 percent increase over the previous year and a two-thirds increase from the launch of DHS in 2003. Keep in mind that these arrests are more than just a number; they represent the capture of murderers, drug dealers, child molesters and potential terrorists. We’ve kept 300 tons of marijuana from entering the U.S. through the ports, as well as 93,000 pounds of cocaine. Last year we encountered 270 people suspected of having terrorist ties.

The additional security at our borders since 2001 (much like additional security at our airports) is incredibly important and there is no denying it has contributed to added wait times.

So we work each day to find ways to ease waits and facilitate legitimate trade and travel. We would add lanes if we could – and in some places we have – but in many sites we cannot (remember, most of America’s ports of entry are not owned by the federal government, but by state and local officials and private businesses).

We are working with our partners in the General Services

Administration and state governments to upgrade and expand port facilities so they better accommodate their current and future functions.
We are trying to ensure all locations are fully staffed during peak hours.

We also recommend that frequent travelers participate in the many “Trusted Traveler Programs” available at northern and southern border locations. While we regret the inconvenience, we cannot apologize for doing our jobs.

Let me also frankly say that there are limits to what we can do about this problem at DHS. Additional security is not the only cause of wait times at the border, and it shouldn’t become the scapegoat. Much like rush hour in any major American city, congestion at our border is as much a factor of a large number of people wanting to go to a particular place at a particular time on finite roadways. Wait times are further affected by everything from Mexican holidays to the relative strength of the Canadian dollar. Those who are serious about solutions need to start thinking of the wait times issue much more as a transportation, infrastructure, and volume problem than a “security” problem. We must acknowledge that solutions to those types of big problems take years and cost money. But any way you look at it, a safer, more secure border is well worth the investment and the wait.”

When faced with a longer than normal wait time at the border, it is my hope that your readers will consider the important points raised by the commissioner.

I would also urge any reader who experiences what they believe to be rude or unprofessional behavior by a border officer to immediately request to speak to a supervisor so that the matter may be addressed. Customs and Border Protection takes such allegations very seriously and does not condone this type of behavior.

There is always a supervisor on-duty and available to assist with passenger issues or complaint.