Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
A bill sponsored by U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small that could lead to all vehicles being scanned for illegal drugs or guns at border ports of entry passed the U.S. House on Monday.
The New Mexico Democrat’s legislation – the Securing America’s Ports Act – aims to increase the scanning rates of vehicles entering the U.S. at land ports of entry with large-scale, nonintrusive inspection systems. U.S. Customs and Border Protection uses those systems to inspect contents of commercial and passenger vehicles for potential contraband, such as drugs and guns, without opening or unloading the vehicles.
“It would apply not just for the larger ports of entry, but smaller ports of entry as well,” Torres Small told the Journal. “That would keep the drug cartels from changing their strategy and shifting their drug traffic to smaller ports of entry.”
Currently, only about 15% of commercial vehicles are scanned for contraband as they cross the border from Mexico, Hector A. Mancha Jr., El Paso director of field operations, told a field hearing of the House Homeland Security at the Santa Teresa border crossing in December. In the El Paso sector, which includes New Mexico, it’s lower than 3% of private vehicles.
The bill – co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas – would require the secretary of homeland security to develop a plan to increase CBP’s scanning rates to 100% of commercial and passenger vehicles at all land ports of entry. It would include incremental time frames and estimated costs by port and provide annual status reports to Congress regarding efforts to implement the 100% plan without a major impact on traffic flow. It would also require research about how the systems can be enhanced.
“Our border security and immigration system is broken, and we need strong, smart and fair initiatives to fix it,” Torres Small said. “… By increasing the amount of NII (noninvasive inspection) technology at our ports, we will stop more drugs from being trafficked across our border, support the efforts of port officers who are already stretched too thin, and stimulate cross-border trade, helping to grow our local economies.”
Torres Small said additional funding for the technology would have to go through appropriations legislation.
“We currently have $570 million appropriated (from the fiscal 2019 budget),” she said.
Based on 2019 statistics, CBP officers process 1.1 million passengers and pedestrians, more than 285,000 privately owned vehicles and 81,000 truck, rail and sea containers, and 7.7 million imported goods a day. Border officials estimate more than 90% of illegal drugs enter through ports of entry, not between them.
“And that’s based on what we can catch,” Torres Small said. “The hardest drugs that affect the lives of many New Mexicans come through our biggest ports of entry.”