- The Washington Times - Monday, November 29, 2004

One of Mexico’s top border enforcement officials says his country and the United States must work together to be “more effective, more compliant” in efforts to secure their border against terrorists and other criminals, while ensuring the free flow of people and trade.

“More than a million people and 70,000 trucks cross the U.S.-Mexico border both ways every day, and the only way we can guarantee the security of those people and the free flow of that trade is to work together,” said Jose M. Garcia, who leads the Mexican Ministry of Finance’s office of revenue and customs.

“Mexico is America’s second largest trading partner, behind only Canada, and it purchases more U.S. products than France, Great Britain, Germany and Spain combined,” Mr. Garcia told The Washington Times. “It’s essential that, working together, we ensure the safety of $250 billion in bilateral trade each year — which is continuing to increase.”

Although questions have been raised by immigration analysts and some political leaders on efforts by Mexico to control its border with the United States, Mr. Garcia said the efforts were upgraded significantly in March 2002 when the two countries signed the U.S.-Mexico Border Partnership Action Plan, also known as “Smart Borders.”

The plan seeks to ensure that long-range strategies are in place to coordinate physical as well as technological infrastructures to keep pace with growing cross-border traffic.

Mr. Garcia said both nations — working through their customs, immigration, national security, foreign affairs and other government agencies — are focused on the development of “targeting tools” that will result in “red lights to alert us immediately to the bad guys, those people seeking to take advantage of us and the system.”

He said it also is important for both countries to re-commit to the June 2001 Border Safety Initiative that sought to save and advise migrants seeking to illegally enter the United States, to curb the smuggling of drugs and people, and to establish a law enforcement liaison to enhance cooperation among agencies along the U.S.?Mexico border.

Mr. Garcia noted that another key area of concern under the plan is the development of systems for exchanging information and sharing intelligence along the border. He said “compatible databases” are a key requirement under the Smart Borders program.

Those databases, he said, are essential to detect, screen and take appropriate measures to deal with potentially dangerous third-country nationals and to increase security and compliance of commercial shipments.

One key area of development, Mr. Garcia said, is a program known as the Advanced Passenger Information System (APIS) designed to increase security in international air travel. It allows for the collection of information on passengers before their plane’s arrival in the United States, Mexico or Canada.

Mr. Garcia said the U.S. system has been in operation since the late 1980s, while APIS has been included in Mexican customs law since 1991 and was used beginning in last November to collect passenger data from the airlines — including name, date of birth, citizenship, sex and passport number. He said there has been an exchange of the information with U.S. and Canadian customs authorities since March.

“The system has been in place since March, and it is fully operational,” Mr. Garcia said. “It allows us to gather information and share it — information that could threaten our national security or that of the United States.”

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