Paying to get ahead of the Customs lines

As Customs lines grow at U.S. border crossings, a band of businesses is offering to pay to keep their customers moving.

Miami airport, the Texas city of El Paso and the Jay Peak ski resort are among a dozen applicants for a pilot program under the new Cross Border Enhancement Act, which encourages alternative sources of funding to ease border delays.

The money they contribute will go toward hiring more staff, paying overtime and other services, such as inspections.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection is reviewing the applicants, and will choose five this summer.

Meanwhile, New York's JFK Airport might well consider the program. The tie-ups in New York's international airport are almost as bad as the rush-hour traffic on the Long Island Expressway outside.

JFK's average Customs line, at 36 minutes, is the longest in the nation, and getting worse.  Cuts in staff have made the line eight minutes longer than last year, a 22% increase, according to a new study by airport watchdog Global Gateway Alliance.

At Los Angeles International Airport and Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, the wait times are 31 and 23 minute, respectively.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has had to deal with federal budget cuts, but visitors keep coming. More than 3.2 million people passed through JFK customs this year, up 12% since 2009.

"CBP is aggressively working to transform its air passenger processing efforts by automating travel documents, integrating mobile technology and advanced biometric solutions," the agency said in a statement, and  is "working with the carriers and airport authorities on operational enhancements to shorten wait times."

El Paso, where a border crossing can take several hours, was the first city to come up with the idea of paying for more Customs agents. It offered the Department of Homeland Security $2.5 million, which the agency couldn't accept under existing guidelines at the time.

But the offer was the impetus behind the pilot program.

The estimated six million people who cross the border in El Paso every year spend $1.4 billion and support about 100,000 jobs in the local economy, the city said.

By Cheryl Rosen

Friday, July 12, 2013

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  • Long lines

    "U.S. Customs and Border Protection secures the homeland by preventing the illegal entry of people and goods while facilitating legitimate travel and trade." It handles both.

    By Cheryl Rosen, Friday, July 12, 2013

  • long lines

    What line is being talked about? Article says Customs, but CBP comments would appear to be referring to immigration.

    By Andrew Haffenden, Friday, July 12, 2013

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