- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 3, 2003

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge will announce today a system to allow commercial trucks to clear customs at the Mexican border in as little as 5 seconds by using preregistered ID cards.

A similar system has had success regulating trucks from Canada, but the less-secure southern border could pose challenges.

“We actually have gone through an enrollment program of enrolling drivers, carriers and the companies that import goods,” U.S. Customs official Jayson Aherm said Tuesday at an industry homeland security conference. Drivers “are then given a ‘prox’ card, which is then shown and swiped when they come up to one of our commercial crossing lanes on the southwest border,” he said, referring to an electronic ID document called a “proximity” or “prox” card.

Under the new program, trusted truckers, trucking companies, manufacturers and importers will be screened, investigated and registered for expedited crossings. When enrolled trucks approach the border, information about their identification and contents will already have been transmitted electronically so they “can actually travel through the borders without impediment on our part,” Mr. Aherm said.

“This will give us more efficient, more effective management of our borders,” he added.

The idea is popular with truckers.

“We want to make sure that all the legal traffic and all the good stuff that is supposed to come through doesn’t get bogged down,” Martin Rojas, director of cross-border operations at the American Trucking Association, said in an interview yesterday. “We want to be sure that we can keep that balance of facilitation and enforcement.”

Automated preregistration for trucks crossing the border with Canada — called the FAST program — has been praised for speeding shipping without compromising security.

The southern border, however, poses risks not present in the north.

“Mexican society is more corrupt by many orders of magnitude than Canada,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the conservative Center for Immigration Studies based in the District. “Because this kind of program is based on a significant level of trust, I would be very hesitant to apply it to Mexico, even though it has been successful in Canada.”

Mr. Krikorian said a program of preregistration for Mexican truckers, trucking companies and manufacturers could leave the United States vulnerable to several types of smuggling.

“It could be illegal aliens — we’ve had truckloads of illegal aliens — it could be drugs, it could be radiological weapons,” Mr. Krikorian said.

But George Grayson, a professor at the College of William and Mary in Virginia and a specialist on the U.S.-Mexican border, said he did not think the new program will pose significant new security risks.

Mr. Grayson pointed out that only a small percentage of all cross-border traffic is subject to invasive inspections and said presorting trusted shippers would allow more of the other trucks to be checked. He added that speeding up border crossings would make trade more efficient.

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