A semi-truck at the unified cargo processing facility in San Jeronimo, Mexico, pulls up to the CBP booth on the campus of the industrial park just south of the Santa Teresa, New Mexico, port of entry. Photo by Donna Burton
With a cheerful smile and a pleasant voice, CBP Officer Oralia Macias leaned out of her booth and greeted the Mexican truck driver who handed her his paperwork, outlining his cargo load and destination.
“Buenos dias. Como esta?” Macias said, as she took the documents and quickly entered the information into a computer near the U.S.-Mexican border. In just a matter of seconds, the manifest is checked, and the trucker and his cargo are sent on their way. “Muy bien. Have a good day!”
Macias explained the paperwork is really simple and is checked to make sure the drivers and cargo match, a short process.
Unlike many of her CBP colleagues who staff booths on the U.S. side of the border, Macias is actually south of the border near the Mexican town of San Jeronimo, a very small town with nothing more than a gas station, roadside store and a couple of old buildings just south of the Santa Teresa, New Mexico, port of entry. Just about the only thing in the area is an expanding campus of a Mexican company set up specifically to expedite trade between the U.S. and Mexico.
Working with their Mexican customs counterparts, a handful of CBP officers are part of a unified cargo processing, or UCP, facility. The facility is on the campus of that Mexican company where electronics such as computers are assembled for export to the United States.
Since CBP and Mexican customs officials see the entire manufacturing and loading process, they’re able to pre-check the goods before and while they’re loaded into the semitrailers. Trucks laden with goods pre-checked and approved by both U.S. and Mexican officials clear both countries’ customs requirements much quicker than if they went through a regular port of entry. Up to 80 trucks can pass through the San Jeronimo UCP each day, already vetted under the terms of the Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism. Better known as CTPAT, it’s a voluntary CBP public-private sector program providing the highest level of cargo security with all the principle international supply chain stakeholders, such as importers, carriers, consolidators, licensed customs brokers and manufacturers.
“From the companies to the drivers to the exporters, everyone must pass the different vettings in order to be in the program,” explained Jesse Proctor, assistant port director in Santa Teresa, adding the process helps grease the wheels of commerce while making sure everything coming into the U.S. is secure.
Just a short distance to the east, trucks not part of the industrial campus have to mix with all the other traffic coming into the U.S. at the Santa Teresa port of entry. The lines can stretch for miles into the Mexican desert on the two-lane road leading up to the port. Just the wait alone can take hours. The Mexico-based company uses the incentive to attract international manufacturers to its campus: no long wait time for their goods to cross the border and get to market. “At the UCP, from the [moment] they hit the Mexican aduanas (customs officials) until they get to CBP, they’re not in line more than 2 to 3 minutes,” said Proctor.
The San Jeronimo facility is the newest of eight UCP facilities and the only one located south of the border. A memorandum in March signed in Mexico City by CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan and the Chief of Mexico’s Tax Administration Service, Osvaldo Santin is helping the program expand.
“Strong international partnerships are critical to effective border security and facilitating the flow of commerce across our borders,” Commissioner McAleenan said. “These cooperative arrangements reflect our shared commitment to ensuring the efficient and secure flow of goods between our two nations. I am committed to enhancing this very important partnership with Mexico to continue to bolster the security and economic prosperity of both our nations.”
“It’s not only good for the trade community – the importers, the exporters, the trucking companies, the brokers – it’s also good for customs administrations,” said Jose Garcia, with Mexico’s Ministry of Finance in that country’s embassy in Washington, D.C., and the lead negotiator helping to develop and implement bilateral customs initiatives, including the UCP program. “We’ve got reports from companies that say they are saving 50 percent in terms of time or 60 percent in terms of costs by having just one stop, one inspection at the same time, not duplicating the process.”
While the memorandum between the U.S. and Mexican governments creating the UCP establishes the scope and general principles of the program, each port of entry can establish procedures that reflect each location’s unique needs and abilities.
The benefits for both countries, as well as the commercial sectors on both sides of the border competing in the world market, makes having these facilities a no-brainer from Garcia’s perspective.
“Why wouldn’t we pursue this?” he said, adding that the program is making the U.S. and Mexico rethink how ports of entry will be built in the years to come. “So perhaps in the future, we won’t design any port of entry without considering how the UCP might work. In the end, it’s the North American industry competing against the rest of the world.”
Garcia emphasized the overall UCP program is a good example of how the U.S. and Mexico can work together to make the border more secure and efficient.
“We in Mexico Customs are not only happy with our relationship with CBP, we are proud of our relationship with CBP. We know a strong and well-coordinated relationship is only producing good things,” he said.
While the process might go quicker, CBP officials emphasized it’s no less thorough in vetting the cargo coming into the U.S. In a warehouse right across the road from the booth, trucks and trailers are sent – some for cause, some by random selection – for a complete offloading and examination of the contents.
“We’re looking to make sure there’s no narcotics in there, no anomalies, such as a false wall, or anything out of place,” said CBP Officer Stacy Aguayo, as she walks through the half-emptied trailer, shining her flashlight to see better in a stack of boxes. “It was already here being unloaded, so we figured we might as well take advantage of the opportunity to do an extra inspection.”
Right now, the San Jeronimo UCP is still being tested and operates just six hours a day. Proctor said the success and convenience for the manufacturers and customs officials from both sides of the border is making them consider expanding that.
Proctor said the facility also is giving junior CBP officers, the bulk of the people assigned to his port, a chance to expand their knowledge about cargo and actually get their hands on equipment and situations only someone with several more years’ experience in the agency normally might get. “It gives them access to our cargo systems and get certified in certain skills, such as the X-ray machines. Later on, if they want to go overseas, their chances of getting picked up are greater.”
Back in the booth, Macias’ colleague, CBP Officer Felix Millan, said cooperation with their Mexican counterparts is excellent.
“They work well with us, and we work well with them,” he said. “We have the same interests: making our economies grow. This ensures trade and gives the economy a chance to blossom on both sides of the border.”
As she helps another driver, Macias emphasizes how serious she and her fellow CBP officers at the UCP take their jobs of making sure every truck is thoroughly vetted before it crosses the border into the U.S.
“It’s part of our core mission,” she said. “It’s better to catch something before it reaches our country.”