New technology helps CBP spot contraband, speed up flow of commerce

New Mexico

New Mexico port of entry getting non-intrusive inspection system next spring; congresswoman pushes bill to provide x-ray imaging to all border crossings

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — New technology coming online next spring should greatly speed up traffic at one of the country’s busiest commercial ports of entry.

The pilot program will allow U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers to see an image of the inside of cargo trucks at the Santa Teresa, New Mexico border crossing before the driver pulls up for inspection.

With this non-intrusive inspection technology (NII), CBP officers can make a faster, better-informed decision as to which trucks should be stopped for more thorough inspections, said U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, D-New Mexico.

“The majority of the most dangerous drugs — from heroin to methamphetamines to fentanyl, come through our ports of entry,” she said. “So, we’re working to get the technology needed at our land ports to identify those drugs and other things that might be smuggled through our borders.”

U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, D-N.M.

CBP already uses this X-ray type of technology in the secondary inspection area, which is where suspicious vehicles are sent for a thorough check-up. But those inspections can take up to an hour or more and often require unloading cargo.

The NII system soon to be tried in Santa Teresa generates an image from a pre-inspection area at the border crossing.

“It’s going to speed up traffic and trade and give us a little more secure feeling about releasing the vehicle because we have that much more information on what’s coming into the country,” said Barry F. Miller, assistant director of field operations for CBP’s El Paso Field Office.

Torres Small said the port of Brownsville already tried the pilot program. It’s deployment allowed CBP officers there to increase commercial inspection rates from an average of 10 to 20 trucks per hour to a whopping 50 trucks per hour.

Some 134,000 trucks passed through the Santa Teresa port of entry last year, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

Truck crossings by port of entry (Bureau of Transportation Statistics)

The pilot program is being funded with a chunk of the $570 million Congress approved for NII systems in 2018.

Torres Small and U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, sponsored a bill that passed the House in February to permanently fund such systems all along the Southwest border. Companion legislation to the House’s Securing America’s Ports Act passed a Senate committee earlier this year and awaits a full vote.

“It is important we have full, 100% NII so we don’t have gaps where smugglers can take advantage,” Torres Small said.

With the existing NII systems, CBP in 2019 conducted 6.6 million inspections that led to 3,026 seizures of drugs, weapons, undeclared currency and unauthorized migrants, the agency reported in its Trade and Travel Report.

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