EL PASO — By the year 2017, wait times at US ports of entry could cost our economy $12 billion in output and as much as $1.2 billion in tax revenue – annually.
That’s according to a government report released last year, showing that since the Department of Homeland Security created Customs and Border Protection – in March 2003 – it has not added any agents to facilitate trade. And there’s no talk of doing so as part of this latest push for comprehensive immigration reform.
Community leaders in El Paso tell Alana Rocha, with our news partner – The Texas Tribune – that investing in the ports would better address immigration.
Veronica Escobar, El Paso County Judge, wants more customs agents available to help move traffic at ports of entry. "See that bridge? See that choking commerce? That's going to effect your retail sales and that's going to affect your bottom-line and your economic base."
State Senator Jose Rodriguez agrees, "I would suggest to people that border security would be enhanced if you had more customs inspectors at our ports of entry because a lot of the illicit drugs that come into the country, come through our ports of entry - not through other areas."
We don’t know exactly how many customs agents work the ports.
A local rep for CBP says they don’t release that information for security reasons.
Nor do they cross-train border patrol agents to do customs work – explaining that the two possess different skill sets and are “therefore not interchangeable.
According to a 2012 report by the National Treasury Employees Union – the federal union that represents customs agents – the Administration’s FY 2013 budget that does not include any additional funds for CBP. The union outlines that that’s despite studies that have shown ports of entry are understaffed by thousands. Yet CBP says they’ve been able to increase capacity at cargo facilities, open additional check lanes at ports, and work with trade partners to stagger deliveries – steps it says have resulted in shorter wait times.
One deal that’s not yet done is addressing so-called sequestration – the massive across-the-board spending cuts that would have an impact on CBP staffing – if Congress cannot come to an agreement by March 1st. Sequestration could lead to fewer boots on the ground, and in the eyes of many lawmakers – a less secure border that will delay comprehensive immigration reform from becoming reality.