100percent ID verifications slowing border

Published on Thu, Jul 7, 2005 by eg Olson

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100 percent ID verifications slowing border

By Meg Olson

If things seem to be going a little slower at the border, if the line coming into the United States seems longer than you’re used to, you could try asking an inspector why. Chances are you’ll get a little grumbling about a new national policy directing inspectors to check the identification of every traveler against national security databases.

“It’s stupid,” said a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) inspector at the Pacific Highway port of entry. “It just slows traffic down when we have to process people we know.” Some inspectors said they felt enhanced identification checks should be up to the individual inspector rather than dictated by policy. “We’re trained so why don’t they leave it to our discretion?” said another truck crossing inspector. “Why waste my time on you when I should be spending it on suspicious travelers?” All inspectors contacted would only discuss the policy they said was put into effect by a recent memo, on condition their names not be published. CBP public information officer Mike Milne said the contents of the memo announcing the policy change, or even its existence, was “internal policy” and would not be made public.

Tom Hardy, CBP director of field operations for 65 ports of entry on the northwest border, told a town hall meeting hosted by Congressman Rick Larsen in Bellingham July 6 “the traveling public has to become a little more mature about what is going on at the border. We are not going to simply query your license plate and let you into our country. We have to have some reasonable validity you are who you are.” He added if people crossing the border knew to have photo identification and proof of citizenship ready to hand the inspector it would significantly speed up inspection times.

Milne said that “enhanced identification checking” was part of his department’s efforts to continually upgrade security at land borders. “We’re doing more of what we’ve always done, trying to utilize all our capabilities,” he said. “We feel the identification of individuals in a vehicle is the best possible way to identify potential terrorists.”

Hardy said the new policy directed CBP officers managers to take advantage of all resources available. “If you’ve got a system, use it,” he said.

Milne also said there was not a policy to check every traveler all the time. “We pulse it, we vary it,” he said. “They’re doing it when we think it’s necessary and they can do it without impacting the line.”
Gordon Rogers with the Whatcom County Council of Governments is not so sure that it’s working that way. Returning from an event at the United States Consulate in Vancouver last week Rogers said he was struck first by extra lanes open on the east side of the Peace Arch port of entry, but then by a marked increase in the time it took inspectors to process each vehicle, entering data into computer terminals.

Milne said the enhanced inspection increased the average time to inspect one vehicle and its occupants by 50 to 70 percent. “We average about one minute per vehicle on primary,” he said. “When we do additional identification checks, it adds 30 to 40 seconds.”

Rogers wondered how the enhanced identification checks and resulting increased delay fit into the framework established under the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) of North America, signed by President George W. Bush, Mexican President Vicente Fox and Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin March 23, 2005. The accord is a commitment to “make our open societies safer and more secure, our businesses more competitive, and our economies more resilient,” which Rogers said depends on border practices which do not “unduly impede legitimate travel and trade.”

Hardy said “every time any of my bosses talk security, they talk facilitation.” The SPP was one of a number of initiatives his department would be implementing. “We’re looking at wait times and how to do things faster,” he said. He indicated the memo his department was not releasing listed December 2005 as a target date to install passport document readers in primary booths which could speed up identification checks in the inspection lane.

Larsen said the next few years would see continual change at the border: The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative requires all travelers to have passports by 2008; the US-VISIT program now being implemented will require entry and exit records of all visitors; in 2010 the Olympics coming to Vancouver will bring hundreds of thousands of visitors to the area and significant highway and border infrastructure projects are scheduled between now and then.