Thursday, October 11, 2007

U.S. Customs and Border Protection inspectors at the nation’s ports of entry arrested 25,000 people during fiscal 2007 — including 270 suspected of having terrorist ties — and seized 300 tons of marijuana and 93,000 pounds of cocaine.

“Homeland security often is a balancing act between two ideals: vigilance and convenience,” said CBP Commissioner W. Ralph Basham. “Nowhere does this dichotomy between security and facilitation play out more dramatically than at our borders and ports of entry.

“Keep in mind that the arrests are more than just a number; they represent the capture of murderers, drug dealers, child molesters and potential terrorists.”

CBP is the unified border agency within the Department of Homeland Security, and includes the combined inspection forces and broad border authorities of the now-defunct U.S. Customs Service, U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, along with the entire U.S. Border Patrol.

Mr. Basham said that at 99 land ports, the agency processed 300 million people last year. He said CBP inspectors scan all vehicles for radiation, check all people for proper documents, and check for terror watch list matches, outstanding criminal warrants, public health and narcotics lookouts, and other indications of risk.

“This process is not a bureaucratic game, but a security imperative,” he said, adding that CBP officers spend 45 to 60 seconds with each person at a primary inspection booth.

“The additional security at our borders since 2001 is incredibly important and there is no denying it has contributed to added wait times,” Mr. Basham said.

Wait times at some land ports of entry can reach an hour or more, officials say, because most were built decades ago and are straining to accommodate today’s national security operations and increased traffic.

“We would add lanes if we could — and in some places we have — but in many sites we cannot,” Mr. Basham said, noting that most U.S. ports of entry are not owned by the federal government, but by state and local officials and private businesses.

Mr. Basham said CBP is working with the General Services Administration and state governments to upgrade and expand port facilities to better accommodate current and future functions.

“While we regret the inconvenience, we cannot apologize for doing our jobs,” he said. “We must acknowledge that solutions to those types of big problems take years and cost money. But any way you look at it, a safer, more secure border is well worth the investment and the wait.”

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