Friday, December 6, 2013
The Associated Press
(Continued from page 1)
In this July 7, 2006 file photo, Jay Peak president Bill Stenger stands at the resort in Jay, Vt. The Vermont ski area near the Canadian border is willing to pay the U.S. Homeland Security Department to ensure there are enough customs agents at the border on weekends so that Canadian skiers don't have to wait. It's part of a pilot program taking place at certain ports of entry around the country. (AP Photo/Alden Pellett)
In this Monday, June 1, 2009 file photo, traffic lines up to enter the United States at the Bridge of the Americas port-of-entry in El Paso, Texas. A Vermont ski area near the Canadian border is willing to pay the U.S. Homeland Security Department to ensure there are enough customs agents at the border on weekends so that Canadian skiers don't have to wait. It's part of a pilot program taking place at certain ports of entry around the country. (AP Photo/Victor Calzada, File)
Last year, total trade amounted to $493 billion between the U.S. and Mexico and $616 billion between U.S. and Canada, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
"The border should be viewed as an economic opportunity, not as a threat," said Democratic U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke, of El Paso, Texas, which has submitted a proposal for the pilot program.
El Paso, where the wait at the border can range from 10 minutes to several hours, had tried to tackle the problem itself in 2011 by raising tolls on three international bridges during peak travel times and giving the $2.5 million in extra annual revenue to the Department of Homeland Security for more Customs and Border Protection staff, but the federal agency couldn't accept separate funding.
The city's effort and the Cross Border Enhancement Act, which encouraged alternative sources of funding to ease border delays, were the impetus behind the pilot program.
An estimated $92 billion in trade passes through the city's borders every year, while 6 million people who cross as pedestrians or commuters spend $1.4 billion annually in the local economy, O'Rourke said. Those activities support about 100,000 jobs in the El Paso economy, he said.
Wait times slow trade for some businesses that travel frequently back and forth, for example those that carry products from plants in Mexico to markets in the U.S., said Deputy City Manager Jane Shang.
At least one other entity in Texas, the South Texas Asset Consortium -- made up of the cities of Laredo, McAllen and Pharr; Cameron County; and the Starr-Camargo International Bridge Co. -- also submitted a proposal for the pilot program for its 11 ports of entry.
Miami International, which sees 9 million to 10 million international arrivals per year, has been discussing for two years the idea of more agents to get international flyers through faster, airport spokesman Greg Chin said.
"We are the fastest-growing U.S. airport for international travel now at MIA," he said, and staffing "has not been commensurate with that growth."