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Bills offer practical fixes for border security needs

Two interesting pieces of legislation have been introduced in Congress – both aimed at securing the border, each with similar titles.

The first is titled the Securing America’s Ports of Entry Act, sponsored by Sen. Gary C. Peters, D-MI. The bill’s objective is “to increase the number of U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office of Field Operations officers and support staff, and to require reports that identify staffing, infrastructure, and equipment needed to enhance security at ports of entry.”

A truck carrying produce from Mexico enters a facility at the port of entry in Santa Teresa, New Mexico, to be scanned for illegal narcotics in September 2016. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

To achieve this objective, the bill calls for U.S. Customs and Border Protection to hire, train, and assign at least 600 new field operations officers above the current attrition level during each fiscal year until the total number of officers equals and sustains the requirements specified in CBP’s Workload Staffing Model. This model analyzes traffic flows and other data at ports of entry to determine the optimal staffing needs at each port. Additionally, CBP would be authorized to hire and assign staff to support the new hires.

If CBP does not achieve the hiring goal outlined in the legislation, the comptroller general of the United States is mandated to conduct a review of CBP’s hiring practices to understand why the goals were not met. Upon completion of the review, a report would then be submitted to the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs of the Senate, and the Committee on Homeland Security of the House of Representatives.

The final part of the legislation calls for the commissioner of CBP to submit a report to the aforementioned Senate and House committees detailing the infrastructure and equipment needs at the nation’s ports of entry, outlining what infrastructure needs are required so that CBP can better intercept illegal drugs and other contraband. The bill appropriates approximately $81 million in 2020 and approximately $97 million annually from 2021 to 2026, for an approximate total of $663 million.

In the House, Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, D-NM, chairwoman of the Oversight, Management, and Accountability Subcommittee, and ranking member Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-TX, have introduced the Securing America’s Ports Act, which calls on CBP “to maximize congressionally allocated funds to support non-intrusive inspection technology at ports of entry.”

The legislation is aimed at increasing the scanning rates of vehicles entering the nation’s land ports of entry by utilizing large-scale, non-intrusive inspection systems. CBP uses systems of these types to inspect both passenger and commercial vehicles. However, it is estimated that CBP scans approximately 15% of commercial trucks and only 1% of private passenger vehicles entering the U.S. Furthermore, NII scanning rates vary significantly from port to port.

The bill calls for CBP to develop a plan to increase NII scanning rates to 100% for all vehicles, based on time frames and necessary appropriation. CBP also would be required to provide annual status reports of the plan to Congress. Finally, CBP would need to implement a one-year pilot program to research and develop enhancements to existing NII systems.

If both bills are passed, they would strengthen the capabilities of CBP and ports of entry to provide better security and interdiction of drugs and criminals. The volume of commerce crossing the border has more than tripled since the North American Free Trade Agreement was implemented 25 years ago. Ports of entry tend to be the most popular crossing points for contraband and unauthorized border crossers. Peters’ bill would increase personnel at ports of entry, many of which are critically understaffed. Torres Small and Crenshaw’s bill would put more technology at ports of entry to more securely process the thousands of commercial and private vehicles that cross northbound into the U.S. daily.

Increased efficiencies and security in processing trade creates more jobs and economic opportunities for our nation, especially with our two North American neighbors. CBP estimates that the passage of Peters’ bill would increase yearly economic activity by more than $1 billion, and result in the addition of more than 17,000 new jobs. The bipartisan Torres Small and Crenshaw bill would complement Peters’ bill and would allow the U.S. to manage increased commercial activity at our ports of entry.

Additional personnel coupled with a plan involving increased equipment and technology at our ports of entry? The creation of such an approach is brilliant in its straightforward approach and logic.

Jerry Pacheco is the executive director of the International Business Accelerator, a nonprofit trade counseling program of the New Mexico Small Business Development Centers Network. He can be reached at 575-589-2200 or at