The Border Commerce and Security Council has voiced concerns about U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s plan to fund certain staffing costs through agreements with some border cities.
Customs recently announced that it had made preliminary selections for five new public-private partnerships, and is continuing progress on an additional project, to support cross-border trade and travel under the agency’s Resource Optimization Strategy. The entities selected for these partnerships include Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport; the city of El Paso, Texas; South Texas Assets Consortium; Houston Airport System; and Miami-Dade County. Under what are known as “reimbursable fee agreements,” the entities can pay for additional Customs staff at their ports of entry in order to reduce processing wait times.
In response to this announcement, Nelson Balido, BCSC chairman and managing principal at Balido and Associates, has raised concern over the equity of such a funding mechanism:
“It seems that CBP and certain Texas towns are going into business together while the rest of the border is left out,” Balido said in a written statement. “Texas border crossings charge tolls, but that's not the case in California, Arizona or New Mexico. Cities in those states don't have access to the capital streams to pay for this special treatment.”
“Because of either its unwillingness or its inability to properly fund CBP, the Obama administration has tapped local governments to do its dirty work,” Balido continued. “Companies that do business in these cities need to watch their bottom lines closely as this new scheme ramps up to ensure that they’re not getting hit with a backdoor tax increase as the cities go looking for the money to pay for the program.”
According to the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, which represents U.S. distributors of Mexican fresh fruits and vegetables, any approach that allows one port of entry to claim an advantage in processing times over others, based solely on an ability to levy fees, is “problematic”:
“We don’t need the government picking winners and losers,” said Lance Jungmeyer, president of the Arizona-based FPAA. “What we need is recognition that security at our Southwestern ports of entry also entails economic security.”