Ports of entry are the physical portals of interaction between countries. People cross to other countries to shop, vacation, and visit families. Businesspeople cross to expand their company’s revenue stream and to diversify their customer base. Trains, trucks, and barges transport goods back and forth to other countries. Ports are where people and merchandise are inspected, verified and welcomed to our country. However, ports are also the first line of defense in intercepting bad players, unsafe products and contraband.
Report after report clearly says that the vast majority of people crossing illegally into the U.S. on the Mexican border are not entering by crossing in a lonely stretch of unguarded desert – rather, they are crossing in vehicles or on foot at ports of entry. This is done by hiding people in trunks or hidden compartments or by presenting false documentation to Customs and Border Protection staff, who are the first point of contact for foreigners entering the country at a port of entry. The reports also indicate that the majority of contraband that enters the U.S. comes through ports of entry. These illicit items can be smuggled on a person’s body or transported in hidden compartments in vehicles and livestock.
So as the controversy brews over President Trump’s initiative to secure funding for a border-long wall on the Mexican border, one fact seems to be lost in the rhetoric: Increasing border security must include ports of entry, or rather, investing in ports is investing in border security. This investment begets the U.S. a two-for-one benefit. First, modernizing ports of entry will help agents better inspect and process people, vehicles and cargo. Redesigning ports so they are more efficient will lead to increased security. State-of-the art monitoring equipment and sensors can also decrease the amount of contraband that is attempting to enter the U.S. More boots on the ground in the form of more CBP officers also will allow better inspections and more muscle where traffic is the thickest.
Part of investing in port infrastructure must also include building better personnel processing and holding facilities. Many ports of entry are being stretched to their capacity by having to process hundreds of Central Americans who are not trying to climb the existing border fence or to slip through a breach. Most of these people are showing up at ports of entry to turn themselves in so that they can pursue an asylum claim. CBP agents have to take time to process each case, and asylum seekers have to be secured in holding rooms and eventually in larger detention facilities, while the next step in their process is decided. The current crisis in Central America has revealed that these holding and detention facilities, as well as the number of agents at ports of entry, are inadequate.
Secondly, investing in port infrastructure and personnel provides another benefit – the ability of the U.S. to more efficiently trade with Mexico. Greater efficiencies in moving cargo and people back and forth across the border will lead to lower costs to the ultimate consumer who purchases the products. It also will allow border states better ability to attract manufacturing and distribution entities that want to take advantage of these increased efficiencies. By investing in ports of entry as part of the push for more border security, the U.S. will obtain more security and increased commerce.