CBP Commissioner Talks Priorities at ‘Outlook on the Americas’ Event
Huge numbers of immigrants and their families escaping famine, economic problems and violence in Central America are taxing U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s ability to protect America’s borders. CBP is working with government and business partners in the Northern Triangle – Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala – to tackle these issues.
“We’re at a place where we have tremendous challenges in these flows at our border,” said CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan. “CBP is committed to working together with partners in the Northern Triangle in Central America, in particular, on moving forward on security, prosperity and governance.”
The Commissioner was part of the Association of American Chambers of Commerce in Latin America and the Caribbean’s Outlook on the Americas meeting in Miami Tuesday. The event was billed as an opportunity for an open dialogue on the economic and political issues that impact trade and investment in the Western Hemisphere, attracting business executives and political leaders for a discussion of public and private sector priorities.
Commissioner McAleenan cited the latest numbers just this week from the Southwest border as emblematic of how immigration has changed in just the past few years: nearly 3,000 migrants arrived at the border Monday, with about 85 percent crossing illegally between the ports of entry. About two-thirds of those were families with children and another 350 unaccompanied children. Up until 2012, migration across the border was mostly single adults, almost always men, from Mexico.
The Commissioner called the current situation unsustainable for the countries from which these immigrants come and for Mexico, which is being victimized by transnational criminal organizations that are profiting off these families.“Whether you’re thinking of it from a border security perspective, a humanitarian perspective, a future of the region perspective, these results are not good,” the Commissioner said.
He outlined a CBP strategy to overcome the current challenges that has four elements:
- Support modernized customs organizations and infrastructure in those affected countries
- Help with best practices to facilitate trade and travel, including automation
- Security capacity building along the U.S. southern border
- Counter human smuggling (stopping illicit migration)
For this group of business leaders, the Commissioner highlighted CBP’s efforts to promote those customs best practices to remove some of the barriers in the supply chains that run between the U.S. and Central America that drag down economic growth for the region. He said CBP provides customs consultancy to countries in the Northern Triangle to help them grow their economies. He pointed to a process that has helped facilitate trade between the U.S., Mexico and Canada called a “single window,” where companies only have to submit their customs information to a government once, and then it’s shared digitally with all parties. “We want to support that in the region, and it does not exist yet in the Northern Triangle,” he said.
Other CBP efforts include measures to cut border transit times – and thus, transit costs – between the three Northern Triangle countries.
“Transit costs in the region are double the cost compared to other intra-region costs in Europe and the U.S. region and Asia,” representing 30 to 50 percent of the total cost of exports; a really prohibitive barrier for businesses that want to expand,” Commissioner McAleenan said, adding his discussions with leaders from the region indicate they are ready for a full-fledged modernization of their customs processes.
The Commissioner also highlighted the work of CBP’s U.S. federal agency partners, such as the State Department, as well as business leaders, such as those with the Association of American Chambers of Commerce in Latin America and the Caribbean.
“CBP wants to be there contributing, and we’re going to need input from the American chambers in each country and the U.S. side to help inform and prioritize that work and that engagement,” he said.