Pubdate: Sat, 11 Dec 2010
Source: El Paso Times (TX)
Copyright: 2010 El Paso Times
Author: Chris Roberts


Travelers headed into Mexico could soon face border-crossing delays 
similar to those endured by northbound travelers.

Cartel violence persists in Mexico, and U.S. officials are looking 
for ways to slow the southbound flow of illicit drug profits and 
weapons that fuel the bloodshed.

One way to do that is to require customs inspections of all outbound traffic.

Customs and Border Protection officials seized about $41 million in 
illegal cash between March 2009 and June 2010, but as much as $39 
billion is smuggled annually, according to a National Drug 
Intelligence Center estimate.

Millions of dollars are being spent to improve Customs' Outbound 
Enforcement Program, and it will cost billions of dollars to make 
necessary changes on all land crossings, officials said. Concerns 
exist, however, that additional delays will further depress 
international commerce and tourism.

"We all understand that we have to do these outbound inspections," El 
Paso Mayor John Cook said Friday.

"But when these bridges were built, it was with the idea that 
northbound inspections would be done on our side and southbound 
inspections would be done on their side. It's very difficult to 
configure the inspection lanes for something that the physical 
location was not meant to do."

U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, has been pushing a bill that 
would entirely redesign the nation's ports of entry on the Canadian 
and Mexican borders.

The project would cost an estimated $1 billion a year over five years, he said.

"Current ports of entry that we're using today were designed some 30 
to 40 to 50 years ago," Reyes said in a telephone interview.

"We have got many different challenges now. The design is outdated."

The new ports would be more efficient and safer for traffic in both 
directions, Reyes said. Although the bill has bipartisan support, he 
said, money has not been appropriated.

Customs received $10 million in the fiscal 2009 War Supplemental 
Appropriations Act to improve outbound lanes along the Southwest 
border, said agency spokesman Roger Maier. The Ysleta and Stanton 
bridges in the El Paso area will be upgraded, he said.

Among the projects planned are protective canopies, improved lighting 
for night operations, concrete traffic barriers and speed bumps

An additional $23 million from previous Southwest border initiatives 
is being used to design and install license-plate reading technology 
at all 110 outbound lanes on the Southwest border, Maier said.

Crossings at Anzalduas, Pharr and Hidalgo -- in the Rio Grande Valley 
- --  will be the first to be equipped with fixed readers, he said.

The rest, including all the El Paso area crossings, are receiving 
mobile readers as a temporary solution, he said. Customs officials 
are also looking for land next to the southbound lanes for more 
construction, according to a recent Government Accountability Office 
report. Determining the costs of crossing delays is difficult, the report says.

"Longer wait times at the border represent an increase in the cost of 
travel, which may lead people to make fewer trips," the report says. 
"Such delays can result in additional expenses for industry and 
consumers stemming from increased carrier costs, inventory costs, 
labor costs, problems with inventory and resulting reduction in trade 
and output."

Diverting commercial vehicle inspections to areas off-site and using 
high-tech pre-inspection programs would relieve some of the 
congestion, Cook said.

Reyes said his bill would add more customs officials, which also 
would speed the traffic flow.
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