Sterling, Va. - Enacted by Congress in 1894 as a federal holiday, Labor Day was initially designated to observe the contributions of our nation's labor forces. The holiday has become synonymous with backyard cookouts and is known as the unofficial end of summer.
But for Customs and Border Protection officers and agriculture specialists at Washington-Dulles International Airport, the holiday is just like any other day. In fact, it was a very busy weekend.
CBP officers made three arrests on outstanding warrants, including arrests for embezzlement and second degree child abuse, and seized about $59,000 from three traveling parties for failure to comply with federal currency reporting requirements. Officers also denied entry to a dozen foreign nationals for previous immigration violations, including overstays, visa fraud and intending immigrants. Additionally, CBP agriculture specialists issued $300 in penalties and seized, among other things, 14 Giant African Land Snails about the size of a child's fist.
"Americans expect their Customs and Border Protection employees to remain vigilant 365 days each year, so we can't take a holiday from protecting our nation," said Christopher Hess, CBP port director for the port of Washington. "These arrests and seizures are a few examples of what our highly trained and dedicated employees do every day to intercept potential threats and to keep us safe."
CBP officers routinely process passenger manifests from international flights arriving and departing the U.S. and sometimes discover passengers with outstanding arrest warrants. CBP officers then work with the agency originating the arrest warrant to process the passenger for arrest.
Those arrested included:
- Kim Huong Thi Dang, 39, Clarksburg, Md., for failure to appear on a Maryland State Police charge of driving without insurance. Dang, a legal permanent resident, returned from Vietnam with her husband on Friday.
- Joseph Robert Ortiz, 33, Belcamp, Md., on a Hartford County, Md., charge of child abuse, second degree, and assault, second degree. Ortiz arrived on Friday from Germany.
- Aissatou Diallo, 22, Fairfax, Va., on a Fairfax County charge of embezzlement. Diallo arrived on Monday aboard a flight from South Africa.
Travelers may transport any amount of currency into and out of the U.S.; however federal law requires travelers to report amounts greater than $10,000 in U.S. dollars and/or equivalent foreign currency. CBP allows travelers multiple opportunities to reveal the correct amount of their currency, and those who refuse risk losing their currency or face stiff penalties.
- $22,002 in U.S. currency and 500 Euros from an Azerbaijani couple who arrived on Friday from Germany. CBP officers assessed a mitigated penalty of $1,000 and returned $21,002 and 500 Euros.
- $25,630 from a mother and son who were boarding a flight to Japan on Sunday. CBP officers seized the currency, then released $500 to the pair for humanitarian purposes;
- $11,437 from a man who returned from Ghana on Monday. CBP officers assessed a $500 mitigated penalty and returned $10,937.
On a typical day during 2009, CBP officers seized more than $300,000 in undeclared or illicit currency.
"We have observed a wide variety of people attempting to circumvent currency reporting requirements, from regular travelers to those engaged in illegal activities," said Hess. "It's ok to carry large sums of currency, but there are severe consequences for not being truthful on CBP declarations."
Another of the priority CBP missions is protecting U.S. agriculture against deliberate or accidental exposure to animal or plant diseases. As such, agriculture specialists inspect traveler's baggage and seize prohibited products. Travelers not honest on their declarations for food products risk a civil penalty.
CBP agriculture specialists assessed a single $300 penalty on Saturday to one traveler for concealing more than two pounds of wood apples.
One agriculture seizure over the weekend did raise eyebrows.
A traveler who arrived from Ghana on Sunday possessed 14 Giant African Land Snails. The snails were about the size of a young child's fist. Believed to be originally from East Africa, Giant African Land Snails are reportedly one of the worst invasive species in the world and are known to have caused economic damage to crop plants. The snails, which can grow to 20 cm x 10 cm, are also illegal to possess in the U.S. The traveler declared the snails and was not penalized, though the snails posed a threat and were destroyed.
CBP agriculture specialists also seized moon cake and birds nest from a woman who arrived from Vietnam. Moon cake, which is made with raw eggs, and bird's nest pose animal disease threats. Only USDA-permitted products are allowed to be imported. The traveler did declare the products and was not fined.
During a typical day in 2009, CBP agriculture specialists seized 4,291 prohibited plant, meat and animal byproducts, and intercepted 454 agriculture pests.
"There are right ways to import products from overseas, and travelers should be aware of those regulations prior to arriving to the United States," said Hess. "It's tough traveling all that way only to abandon fruits, meats and other agriculture products which are prohibited from entering the U.S."
Travelers can learn which products are admissible and which are prohibited. (Travel)