EDITORIAL: Filling a need

Bill to improve inspections would help Valley economy

A Customs Border Protection Special Response Team member patrols at the Hidalgo-Reynosa International Bridge on Friday, Nov. 9, 2018, in Hidalgo. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

The flow of traffic across the international bridges helps nourish the Rio Grande Valley economy. Reduced trade caused by economic problems in Mexico have thrown Valley businesses that depend on crossborder shoppers into bankruptcy.

Retail trade is only one of the elements that benefit our region, as its growth following passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement attests. Large shipments of factory goods and agricultural products are a major part of daily activity at border crossings, especially in the Valley. Millions of pounds of agricultural products — more than two-thirds of all such produce that crosses to and from Mexico — passes through the Pharr International Bridge and other local ports of entry.

One impediment to smooth, rapid bridge crossings is the inspections that are need to better ensure that he people and products entering our country are legal and safe. U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, aims to improve the process by adding inspectors and canine units at our ports of entry. House Resolution 4482, the Protecting America’s Food & Agricultural Act, would give the authority and funding to the Department of Customs and Border Protection to hire and train up to 240 agricultural specialists as well as 200 agricultural technicians and 20 canine teams, every year, to help the agency meet its workforce targets and address worker attrition.

CBP reports it currently is understaffed by 695 agricultural specialists.

In announcing the proposed legislation, Vela noted their importance.

“These hard-working men and women are on the front line of protecting our domestic agriculture industry and the health and safety of Americans from invasive pests and diseases such as citrus greening and African swine fever,” Vela said.

The value of these inspectors cannot be overstated. These specialists inspect produce and other items entering the country, enforcing bans on some goods and looking for signs of disease or parasites that could devastate U.S. crops if they are allowed to enter. They also manage the importation of live animals and birds, and quarantine those that need to be observed for signs of disease.

On an average day, these inspectors seize more than 2,000 kilos of drugs, nearly 4,400 banned plants and animals and more than 300 agricultural pests and diseases, Vela’s office reports.

Each inspection takes time, and personnel shortages reduce the number of inspections that can be conducted at any time. This slows down the process, leading to delays that only grow longer as the day progresses.

Adding just five minutes to each inspection adds an hour to crossing times after just a dozen inspections. Fewer eyes reviewing products and overworked inspectors increases the chance that something might be missed.

Adequate staffing helps improve the process of bringing valuable agricultural products to U.S. markets, while improving inspections and better ensuring public safety. Rep. Vela is right to seek to fill this need, and we encourage his colleagues in Congress to endorse his efforts by passing HR 4482.