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Wednesday, February 6, 2013 - 9:15pm
EL PASO — With Valentine's Day just more than a week away, flower shops are hustling to make the perfect floral arrangements.
United States Customs and Border Protection agents are just as busy making sure that flowers that come from outside of the U.S. are not carrying any pests or diseases.
"A shipment will have anywhere from 2,000 - 5,000 stems and that will continue daily. And I'm just talking about roses, that will continue daily until they fulfill all of their orders," said Catherine Vasquez, Customs and Border Protection Agricultural Specialist Supervisor.
CBP agents check cargo shipments with large, commercial loads, as well as passenger cars that drive into the U.S. from Mexico.
If commercial shipments are found to have a prohibited item, the company has the option to have CBP agents destroy them on site, or the shipment can be returned to Mexico.
Individuals crossing over small bouquets are given the same option.
"If they do arrive, and if we do find a prohibited item in the arrangement, we'll ask the individual if we can remove it or we do give them the opportunity to return," said Vasquez.
If flowers are not declared when crossing into the U.S. from Mexico, a fine of at least $300 could be assessed.
Shirley Cortez is the president of Anita's Flower Shop in East El Paso, and up until this year, all of her roses came from local wholesalers that purchased them from Mexico. This year her roses came from Ecuador through Miami.
"When they go to the wholesales, they'll sit for a week somewhere in the boxes. These are freshly cut, they were cut not even two days ago and they come directly to us," said Cortez.
She never had a problem with pests or diseases in the flowers from Mexico, but said she is happy with her decision to change suppliers.
"The quality first, that was the main thing, then the quantity. They were able to supply us with enough roses and colors," said Cortez.