- The Washington Times - Friday, August 27, 2004

U.S. Customs and Border Protection wants to put a new face on the inspectors who handle 650 million visitors and immigrants arriving each year at the nation’s ports of entry — a happy one from officers with good posture and friendly words, such as “Have a nice day.”

CBP Commissioner Robert C. Bonner announced the new initiative yesterday, saying the move would ensure that the agency and its personnel practice the highest of standards in professionalism.

“U.S. Customs and Border Protection is the guardian of this country’s borders, but it is also the face of our nation and the U.S. government to all who enter,” Mr. Bonner said in announcing the program.

“We are implementing standards and policies to ensure the highest degree of professionalism and courtesy at our nation’s ports of entry, and we are allowing CBP officers the discretion necessary to resolve technical infractions rapidly, while carrying out their primary mission of preventing terrorists and terrorist weapons from entering the country,” he said.

Mr. Bonner said he expected “professionalism and courtesy” to be the hallmark of CBP officers at the nation’s 317 ports of entry and noted that signs will be posted at all air, sea and land ports inviting those who are not treated fairly to complain.

But the initiative was not well-received by many of the agency’s rank and file, said Charles Showalter, president of the National Homeland Security Council, which represents 18,000 former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) employees now at CBP and at its parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security.

“We are highly trained and skilled law-enforcement professionals who carry out our duties in a professional manner,” Mr. Showalter said. “It appears this program is an admission they are more concerned about meeting and greeting commerce and tourism than in protecting our nation’s borders from terrorists, illegal aliens, criminals and others who would do us harm.”

Mr. Bonner noted that an important part of professionalism is the appropriate exercise of discretion in determining whether to refuse or permit entry of people attempting to enter the United States.

“Since the overwhelming majority of travelers pose absolutely no threat to our national security, CBP will use discretion to permit entry, whenever the law allows, for individuals that have committed a technical or inadvertent immigration violation, but who otherwise pose no threat whatsoever,” he said.

He said potential terrorists, those that might be engaged in criminal activity and those who might add to the illegal population of the United States will be refused entry.

“We are a world-class law-enforcement organization, and even a single instance of rude or discourteous behavior is one too many,” he said.

The new program follows a Homeland Security decision earlier this month to restrict the U.S. Border Patrol’s arrest of illegal aliens in the nation’s interior. It was based on concerns that the apprehension of 450 illegals by agents in inland areas of Southern California failed to consider the “sensitivities” of those detained.

In the initiative, a recent CBP memo outlined a series of training sessions for the agency’s employees to ensure that they “conduct themselves in a courteous, respectful and helpful manner” when dealing with the public and with fellow workers.

The sessions, which will begin in September and last eight weeks, include exercising discretion in the determination of admissibility at the nation’s ports; the importance of a professional appearance and workplace environment; basic communication expectations; lessons on poise, dignity and self-control; elements of etiquette, and the importance of having “a world-class organization.”

The memo, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times, was sent to all CBP directors, field operations supervisors and port managers, who are expected to hold the training sessions during mandatory pre-shift briefings.

“First impressions are lasting impressions. Whether it is a traveler from a weary flight, the trade community needing an entry cleared, the importing public or simply a passer-by that may have an opportunity to observe you, the image you portray may form a lifelong view of CBP,” the memo said. “It is vital that you mind your manners.”

The training sessions will include instructions on etiquette, which the memo describes as “saying and doing the right thing at the right time;” grooming and body language, including posture; housekeeping and maintaining food or perishables in the workplace; and communication skills, including the use of the words “may I” and “would you please” instead of “you have to” or “give me.”

The memo also said CBP officers will greet people with “welcome to the United States or welcome home,” will interact with the public, trade community and others by saying, “Good morning. How may I help you?” and will bring closure to an encounter by saying, “Do you have any questions?” “It is a pleasure to serve you” and “Have a nice day.”

According to the memo, CBP border officers also will exercise discretion when making decisions on whether to admit a person to the United States and that discretion will be applied on a case-by-case basis.

It said entry must be denied to anyone who poses a terrorist threat, is a potential criminal or might commit acts of violence, and those who intend to “unlawfully establish residence” or accept “unlawful employment” in the United States.

But, it said, the officers must consider the situation and weigh all factors. It said, “Put yourself in the alien’s shoes. Would you not want the officer to consider all flexibility within the law? Compassion goes a long ways.”


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