Commentary: Very soon, we will enter what is termed the “Paisano Season,” in which thousands of people will be crossing the U.S.-Mexico border to spend time with their families during the holidays. Cars and trucks will be loaded with luggage and gifts for the Christmas season. The highways will start to become full as people begin their annual trek back and forth across the border. Ports of entry will become clogged with long lines of cars and people waiting to cross. I generally limit my travel to Mexico during this period because I hate waiting in lines.
Border crossings are already feeling the strain of increasing numbers of people, due to the thousands of immigrants approaching the southern border to seek asylum in the United States. Even though the waves of migrants have decreased, any subsequent wave approaching ports of entry can cause major problems. Asylum seekers have to be taken into custody, documented, physically examined by medics, fed, and housed at the ports until a more appropriate space is found to keep them until their hearing.
When large waves of immigrants approach a port of entry, the port director has the discretion to shut the facility down for security reasons, and to protect his/her personnel. There have been incidents of immigrants aggressively storming ports of entry and several Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officers have been injured. Although ports of entry don’t typically stay closed down for very long, any closures will result in traffic piling up on both sides of the border. This is highly disruptive to the flow of people and cargo, causing inefficiencies and a drop in productivity for companies on a tight supply chain. As the Paisano Season approaches, and the immigrants keep approaching the ports of entry, we could see major delays and disruptions.
The General Services Administration (GSA) of the U.S. federal government is currently doing a review of all ports of entry on the Mexican border. I have always touted the case for modernizing the infrastructure at the ports, and I am happy that GSA will be seeing first-hand what is needed to improve them. Infrastructure is important, but even more important is the human element, namely CBP officers that protect the U.S. from drugs and contraband, and who are also an integral element in the U.S.’s trade with countries such as Mexico.
There is a gap between the number of CBP officers needed and how many are actually being recruited. Many ports of entry are understaffed, and crossing lanes that could be used to process people and commerce are closed because there are simply not enough CBP officers to attend to them. And it is not as simple as saying that all the U.S. government has to do is hire more people.
When a CBP prospect is recruited, he/she will have to go through an extensive training period. After this is over, an agent will still need to shadow an experienced CBP officer for at least one year, after which the new CBP officer will finally be available to be fully functional in his/her position. Depending on the traffic, strategic importance, and need, new CBP officers are then assigned to a particular port of entry. In other words, it takes quite a bit of time to recruit, train, and position CBP agents. It is not simply a case of hiring them and putting them directly on the line. Furthermore, many young people entering the workforce, who could be recruits, are not interested in a job that involves stress, sometimes dark human elements, and often long hours.
This particular Paisano Season will test the limits of the infrastructure at our ports of entry and the CBP officers who are trained to keep the U.S. safe from illegal elements. The executive branch of government must work with Congress to appropriate the necessary funding to recruit and hire more CBP officers. This human element must not be overlooked. Our ability to keep our trade with the world growing rests on the backs of these individuals. It would be foolish to skimp in this area and create bottlenecks that are within our power to prevent.
Note: I received an overwhelming response to my last column which discussed the popularity of Hatch chile and its spread throughout the world. I received e-mails from chile lovers in places such as Portland, Oregon, Los Angeles, California, Anchorage, Alaska, and various midwestern states. One restaurant owner in Bloomington, Illinois wrote to tell me that he makes green chile stew at his Italian restaurant, and in true New Mexican fashion offers green chile as a pizza topping. One of my friends, who is married to a lady from a city near Bloomington, was visiting her family in that region. I told him about the Italian restaurant, he made contact with owner, and will be stopping by for green chile in the Midwest on his next visit. The proliferation of Hatch chile is a testament to this little can-do village.
Jerry Pacheco is Executive Director of the International Business Accelerator, a non-profit trade counseling program of the New Mexico Small Business Development Centers Network, and the President/CEO of the Border Industrial Association. He can be reached at 575-589-2200 or firstname.lastname@example.org