Toeing the Line

Perhaps one of the most important parts of the proposed immigration reform legislation pending in Congress includes investment in US ports of entry along the border. Carlos Puig, columnist for the Mexican newspaper Milenio, shares a vignette of how the currently overtaxed and inefficient border infrastructure is costing time and money. It would greatly benefit from the funding President Obama and many members of Congress have requested.

By Carlos Puig, “Latitude”, The New York Times, June 5, 2013

On most radio stations in this city you get a traffic report every 15 minutes. It’s not the typical kind. It doesn’t refer to what’s going on in the streets; it’s all about “la Línea,” the Line. Here, an average of 50,000 cars and 25,000 pedestrians move between the United States and Mexico every day.

The wait is described not in minutes or hours but in cars or pedestrians. The line is not a line; it’s four different lines. And so the reports go something like this: “San Ysidro, doors: 16.” (Referring to one of the two border crossings between Tijuana and San Diego, and the number of gates open there.) “Left: 220.” (Meaning, there are 220 cars lined up in the lanes to the left.) “Sentri: 70.” (That’s the count for pre-screened frequent crossers.) “Pedestrians: 1,600.” (According to the 9 a.m. report from June 3). You have to live on the border to know that 220 cars means waiting about two hours and 1,600 pedestrians about 90 minutes.

Another way of putting this is to say that the busiest border in the world has become one of the more inefficient. A 2010 study by the San Diego Association of Governments and the California Department of Transportation estimated that the delays cost the state of California around $4 billion and more than 25,000 jobs a year.

In 2011, the U.S. and Mexican governments agreed to revamp border infrastructure in the Tijuana/San Diego area to reduce waiting times to a maximum of 30 minutes. In October last year Mexico opened its new border station with 22 inspection lanes, an additional 16 from before. On the U.S. side, the plan was to roughly triple the number of car lanes and double the number of inspection posts for pedestrians. But the project has fallen prey to the economic crisis and the U.S. budget sequester, and Customs and Border Protection — a subset of the Department of Homeland Security — has delayed any construction. Although President Barack Obama included in his budget proposal for FY 2014 some $226 million dollars for the border crossings, the allocation is still under discussion in Congress.

It may be the first time that the poor southern country beats its rich northern neighbor. Small consolation, though, especially for the struggling Mexican economy. “Americans are not coming as they used to, and a big part is the delay at the border when they want to go back,” Carlos Bustamante, the mayor of Tijuana, told me last week.

Mexico has tried to alleviate losses by issuing a “fast pass” to tourists who spend $70 in designated local hotels and restaurants: It’s a one-day pass authorizing them to go through a makeshift lane monitored by the Tijuana police that lets them skip the line to just before the U.S. inspection booth. It’s empty much of the time.

Read the original article

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