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Heightened port security deters smuggling efforts

September 25, 2001|By DARREN SIMON, Staff Writer

As ports of entry across the nation remain at heightened alert in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on our nation, there has been a sharp decrease in attempts to smuggle drugs and people through the ports.

While motorists trying to cross into the United States have faced longer waits, the added inspections at ports all along California's border with Mexico have made things tougher for smugglers.

Statistics released by the U.S. Customs Service tell the story.

Since the Sept. 11 attack and intensified border inspections, the drug seizures at all California ports have totaled 54, according to Vince Bond, a Customs spokesman. The seized drugs have totaled 4,179 pounds, he said.

In comparison, the period from Sept. 11 to Sept. 23 a year ago saw Customs do 144 drug seizures at the ports with the drugs totaling 29,388 pounds.


"There is product being stockpiled south of the border," Bond said.

He added, "Smugglers are finding it foolish and somewhat futile" to try to move drugs through the ports now.

Still, Customs officials think the seizures could soon start to increase as smuggling operations become desperate to move drugs across the border.

Bond said seizures are starting to increase.

Michael Freeman, Calexico area ports director for the Immigration and Naturalization Service, said the INS has seen a sharp decrease in people-smuggling through the ports.

He said the week prior to Sept. 11 there were 252 apprehensions at the downtown port. In the week following the attack, apprehensions dropped to 42.

An INS spokeswoman who asked not to be named said smugglers know INS inspectors are scrutinizing vehicles more so and know they are not going to be able to get people across the border by hiding them in trunks or elsewhere in vehicles.

She said there also has been a decrease in people trying to cross with fraudulent documents.

Freeman said inspectors are more visible at the port and it is making a difference.

Customs and INS remain on heightened state of alert at the ports and there is no word on when that will change. That means the longer lines and wait times will continue.

Bond said motorists have started to change their practices in passing through the ports. He said people are crossing earlier and using other ports.

At the Calexico East Port of Entry, there has been an increase in the wait time as more motorists have started to use that port rather than the downtown port. That could reduce the traffic of the heavily congested downtown port.

Kevin Bell, a Customs spokesman in Washington, D.C., was asked if the Sept. 11 events could mean a permanent change in operations at ports of entry.

Bell said he doesn't know how or even if the terrorist attacks would affect policy regarding port operations.

Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.

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