Filner: Port director's response to special lane for seniors not enough

June 09, 2002|By AARON CLAVERIE

Staff Writer

CALEXICO — California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Rep. Bob Filner, D-Chula Vista, and the Calexico City Council tried asking nice at first, but exclamation points are getting thrown around now.

In May the lawmakers asked Michael Freeman, U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service director of the Calexico and Andrade ports of entry, to open a special lane for senior-citizen border-crossers so the elderly wouldn't have to endure long waits during the scorching summer months.

Freeman has said he has the authority to open up a special lane, but he hasn't taken that step.

Freeman sent Filner a letter last week that read in part, "I feel that measures that have been in effect for the past two weeks fully address your concerns for the senior citizens waiting in long lines and the creation of a special senior citizen lane."


Freeman said that in the past two weeks the average wait time has been five minutes with peak times no more than 20 minutes.

"Even on Wednesdays," he said. Wednesdays are high traffic days due to the Calexico swap meet.

In response to Freeman's letter, Filner unleashed the exclamation point.

The headline for his press release Friday reads, "Congressman Bob Filner's call to protect seniors from summer heat is answered — but he says ‘Calexico INS can do more!'"

In the press release, Filner states, "I still think that a separate line for seniors is necessary. Heat stroke is often fatal because it happens so quickly. Even a 20-minute wait in 110-degree heat can be dangerous."

Members of the City Council agree with Filner.

Mayor John Renison said he left a previous meeting with Freeman convinced that a lane for the elderly would be opened.

That the lane hasn't been created was a surprise to him.

Renison and the council plans to meet with Freeman again Tuesday.

Renison said he'll push for the creation of a special lane at that meeting even though he lauds the recent efforts at the port that have lowered wait times.

Mayor-pro-tem Frank Montoya brought up the idea for a senior's lane almost a month ago during a council meeting.

He said Friday now would be a good time in the year to open a special lane.

"The heat's on us already. I'd hate to see some lady or gentleman pass out on us when we waited. I know there is something they can do," Montoya said.

The problem?

"The wrinkles that have to be ironed out is who is going to be in line with the senior citizen," Montoya said.He said the INS is concerned about who might be allowed to take advantage of the line.

While he understands those concerns, Montoya said a seniors lane would help out seniors — and not just Calexico seniors.

"We're talking about people from all over. These people deserve that right. They pay their taxes to get something like this done," he said.

Freeman said, as he has in the past, that he would listen to what the council has to say during the upcoming meeting.

"I'm open to suggestions," he said.

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

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