Editorial: Torres Small works across aisle to tackle contraband at border

For years, those of us standing on the precarious middle ground of the debate over securing the United States’ border with Mexico have pointed to evidence that more security is needed at our country’s actual ports of entry.

Experts agree that – wall or no wall – most illegal drugs coming up from Central or South America aren’t carried in by backpack through the desert; they’re driven in on major highways. It’s not exactly news.

That’s why it was a bit shocking to learn in a Dec. 3 Journal story by reporter Scott Turner that only about 15% of commercial vehicles and 1% of private vehicles are being scanned for contraband at ports of entry.

Good for U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small for recognizing these levels are unacceptable. The Democrat from New Mexico’s southern-most Congressional district is working across the aisle with U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw of Texas on the Securing America’s Ports Act, which would work to get those numbers up.

It’s important to remember that ports of entry aren’t the only place where CBP searches vehicles for trafficked drugs – much of the contraband seized in recent years has been found during searches at a series of checkpoints situated on highways radiating out from the El Paso-Juárez border. So the system could certainly use a lot more thoroughness in addition to redundancy – case in point, earlier this year when CBP temporarily abandoned those highway checkpoints to send its staff to help with the massive influx of asylum-seeking migrants arriving at the border itself.

The checkpoints are back up and running, but in the long run, we need a better system.

Torres Small’s act would require the Secretary of Homeland Security to come up with a plan that will eventually have U.S. Customs and Border Protection scanning 100% of commercial and private vehicles crossing the border.

It seems likely that will happen by acquiring more so-called “large-scale, non-intrusive inspection systems” – an unwieldy name for a useful technology. CBP already has some of these giant X-ray machines that form an arch large enough to drive a semi truck through, which allows agents to scan for contraband rather than the labor-and-time-intensive process of physically searching vehicles.

That efficiency is especially important moving forward, considering the huge impact trade with Mexico has on our economy – and the enormous amount of that trade that comes across the border by truck. The Santa Teresa port of entry alone accounts for some $2 billion in trade each year.

Hopefully, Torres Small and Crenshaw’s colleagues from both major parties will recognize the value of these efforts, that this flavor of border security is a nonpartisan solution to keeping contraband out of the country, and step up both to pass the act and fund the Department of Homeland Security so it can get the necessary equipment.

The scourge of America’s drug-addiction crisis isn’t getting any better. The technology is out there to help cut off these supply lines – and Congress needs to take Torres Small and Crenshaw’s lead and use it.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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