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Border merchants' concerns addressed

October 12, 2001|By AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer

CALEXICO — The way of life for border communities has changed forever, according to Jayson Ahern, acting director of field operations for the U.S. Customs Service in Southern California.

On Thursday, the Calexico Chamber of Commerce and civic leaders filled Hometown Buffet's conference room to listen to Ahern and other officials from Customs and the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

The officials addressed the concerns of merchants who have said the stricter security regulations imposed on each border-crosser have caused an economic downturn throughout the border region.

Ahern empathized with merchants who have complained of lower sales due to the wait times at the border.

"We understand wait times are significant," he said.

Ahern said Customs will focus on the effect the security regulations are having on travel and trade even as the agents continue to maintain the highest level of security.


"We will continue to conduct intensive inspections. I can tell you that isn't going to stop any time soon," Ahern said.

To boost traffic and border commerce, Ahern said federal agencies and merchants need to work together to "build the confidence" in the border area.

"Let (shoppers and tourists) know the border is not closed," he said.

While the border has not been closed since the Sept. 11 attacks on the East Coast by terrorists, Ahern said his office receives calls every day from people who have heard rumors it is closed.

Ahern asked merchants to schedule their employees to arrive at work during non-peak times because "the peak times have not changed but they are longer."

Louis Fuentes, executive director of the Imperial Valley Economic Development Corp., asked Ahern if the Calexico East Port of Entry could be closed an hour earlier to increase the number of people available to work at the downtown port. The east port is open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Ahern said the idea is feasible: "Any idea will be considered in the near future."

Carlton Hargrave, owner of Hometown Buffet in Calexico, said there needs to be more dialogue and recommended the formation of an ad hoc committee or task force.

Ahern agreed there needs to be more communication and meetings but said, "We're not going to get into shared governance of the border."

Mayor Pro Tem John Renison asked Ahern if the port traffic numbers on the Customs Web site are the latest numbers.

Ahern said the numbers are being uploaded as soon as possible after the Sept. 11 attacks. Previously, the port traffic numbers available on were a day old.

Earl Roberts, a local customshouse broker, thanked Customs Assistant Port Director Al Miramontes for managing the commercial side of border crossing.

Roberts said there have been no problems with his business but he did speak out for his colleagues when he said the lines for pedestrians are "unbelievably" long and there needs to be a consideration for the downtown Calexico business community that depends on foot traffic.

Michael Freeman, INS port director for Calexico, said INS has opened every pedestrian lane and installed one more metal detector to speed the lines.

Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419 or

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