CBP Leaders Describe Progress on U.S.-Mexico Border Security
During a panel discussion on U.S.-Mexico security cooperation yesterday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Chief Operating Officer Thomas Winkowski said he believes significant progress has been made on border security between the U.S. and Mexico during the last five years.
Winkowski credited a strong Border Patrol presence and joint targeting efforts by the U.S. and Mexico as being instrumental in apprehending more illegal aliens and drug smugglers from Mexico along America's southern border. He pledged that more security will be added to the southern border but CBP will be facing "budget challenges" in the coming fiscal years, as will other federal agencies.
Winkowski's remarks came at the 16th annual U.S.-Mexico Chamber of Commerce Congressional Border Issues Conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.
Winkowski credited Mexico in helping America better secure the southern border by cooperating with the U.S. on its Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism and by operating its Alliance for Secure Commerce, a program that has been an asset to American border security, he said.
"The relationship with Mexico is stronger and there have been tremendous inroads" in how both sides look at the southern border, Winkowski told the audience. "When I think of security, it is catching bad people but it is also... so we can facilitate legitimate trade and travel."
CBP Acting Assistant Commissioner for the Office of Field Operations Kevin McAleenan also addressed an earlier panel on trade, commerce and infrastructure along the U.S.-Mexico border and said he believed that since the chamber's last Capitol Hill gathering in 2011 partnerships have added to U.S.-Mexico border security.
"It has been a period from our perspective that has really been marked by innovation and partnership in a lot of areas," McAleenan said. He noted that relations between the U.S. and Mexico at all levels of government and with the private sector have never been stronger "because we are all working together on our shared challenges."
McAleenan said the SENTRI trusted traveler program has seen a membership increase of 15 percent. He said it is one of the key programs that have been instrumental in speeding up traffic across the U.S.-Mexico border.
CBP's goal is to keep the waits in the SENTRI lanes under 15 minutes "so those most frequent and most trusted crossers get the most facilitated approach at the border," McAleenan said.
The Global Entry program between the U.S. and Mexico also drew praise from McAleenan. "It is a very effective mechanism for moving travel quickly," he said, especially those travelers coming into the U.S. from airports located within the interior areas of Mexico.
"We have now over 15,000 members, Mexican citizens, in Global Entry and we are looking forward to continued growth and expansion in that particular program," McAleenan said.
Ready Lanes, according to McAleenan, have also been expanded across America's border with Mexico and he estimates that with the radio frequency identification technology that enables CBP officers to access information as drivers approach in Ready Lanes shortens border inspection times of vehicles and passengers by 40 percent.
"We now have four of our largest ports on the southwest border that have more than 50 percent of the travelers either in the SENTRI or ready lanes," he said.
McAleenan closed his remarks by saying that the U.S. and Mexico still operate in a "challenging security environment with transnational criminal organizations that seek to take advantage of this [U.S.-Mexico] increase in trade and travel to try smuggle in contraband or people, and we need to be mindful of that and work together to address that as well."
U.S. Customs and Border Protection is the unified border agency within the Department of Homeland Security charged with the management, control and protection of our nation's borders at and between the official ports of entry. CBP is charged with keeping terrorists and terrorist weapons out of the country while enforcing hundreds of U.S. laws.