- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 24, 2003

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, America’s first line of defense along the expansive borders with Canada and Mexico, has upgraded security in response to the country’s elevated terror alert.

“We are ready and able to carry out our priority mission: preventing terrorists and terrorist weapons from entering the country,” CBP Commissioner Robert C. Bonner said. “As the nation’s unified border agency, U.S. Customs and Border Protection is increasing its scrutiny of arriving people, vehicles and cargo at our land borders, our seaports and our international airports.”

To lessen the effect of the increased security, CBP has assigned additional manpower where needed to manage the flow of holiday traffic, Mr. Bonner said.

“U.S. Customs and Border Protection, as a key operational agency of the Department of Homeland Security, has developed ways to provide increased border security without choking off the flow of legitimate trade and people entering our country,” he said.

At international airports, border crossings and the nation’s seaports, Mr. Bonner said, the CBP has increased examination of incoming passengers, baggage and cargo using advance information. All documents, including passports, personal identification and cargo manifests, are receiving greater scrutiny.

Additional security inspections, using large-scale X-ray equipment and radiation-detection devices, are being performed on a risk-managed and targeted basis, he said.

Mr. Bonner said the Border Patrol, part of the CBP, will be on a heightened level of vigilance and deploy all available agents throughout the country’s 300 ports of entry. The agency, he said, will coordinate activities with all federal, state and local law enforcement while maintaining communications with counterparts in Mexico and Canada.

“During the holidays, the dedicated men and women of U.S. Customs and Border Protection continue to go above and beyond the call of duty to protect our nation from terrorism,” he said.

CBP’s priority mission is to prevent terrorists and terrorist weapons from entering the country, although it also is responsible for apprehending persons attempting illegal entry, stemming the flow of illegal drugs and other contraband, and protecting agricultural and economic interests from pests and diseases.

To accomplish the missions, Mr. Bonner said, CBP has a work force of more than 40,000 employees, including inspectors, canine enforcement officers, Border Patrol agents, trade specialists and mission-support staff.

For the first time in the nation’s history, he said, people and goods arriving at U.S. ports of entry are greeted by “one single agency with one unified goal: to facilitate legitimate trade and travel while utilizing all of the resources at our disposal to protect and defend the United States from those who would do us harm.”

CBP became an agency within the Department of Homeland Security on March 1, combining employees from the Department of Agriculture, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Border Patrol and the Customs Service.

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