Even though the Olympics are offer customs staff remain at high levels. While states and cities and towns reduce services of all kinds even police anything that has to do with security it seems is sacrosanct. This also may help to reduce tourism just what the US needs when the economy is struggling to recover.
U.S. border agents inspecting more travelers heading into Canada
JOHN STARK - THE BELLINGHAM HERALD
Thanks to the increase in border staffing meant to handle the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, B.C., U.S. Customs and Border Protection is conducting more inspections of northbound travelers as they leave the country.
CBP spokesman Tom Schreiber said the outbound inspections have intercepted big drug shipments and fugitives in the past, and making those inspections more frequent should pay off.
"These operations have high-value results," Schreiber said.
For an outbound inspection, a group of uniformed CBP officers use traffic cones to funnel northbound vehicles into a single lane for visual checks and possible questioning and search.
Some see such inspections as one more hassle that discourages cross-border trade and tourism.
"This is part of the ongoing militarization of the northern border," said Bellingham immigration attorney Greg Boos, who crosses the border almost every day. "I think it points out that perhaps CBP has too much staff at the border."
Once a rarity, outbound inspections have become commonplace, Boos said.
"They used to only do this on nights when there was a good rock concert in Vancouver," Boos said. "Now I may be seeing this one out of four times, one out of three times I cross."
Ken Oplinger, president of the Bellingham/Whatcom Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said he also noticed a significant increase in the frequency of outbound inspections in the weeks just before the Olympics.
"It's certainly an inconvenience," Oplinger said. "It does tie up traffic, for NEXUS users especially. It sends an absolutely horrible message."
Schreiber said U.S. agencies have conducted outbound inspections from time to time for decades, even before the 2001 terror attacks that put increased emphasis on border security. But in the past, those agencies concentrated their limited staff on incoming traffic, and outbound inspections were rare. In the weeks leading up to the Olympics, that changed, and the permanent increase in staffing levels is enabling CBP to do more outbound inspections while still covering the inbound travelers.
"It's something we do when resources permit," Schreiber said. "We have the staffing now. It's fair to say that we've been doing more."
CBP does not release specific numbers on its staffing levels.
The inspections of departing traffic are being increased because they have been effective in the past, Schreiber said. In July 2009, a Calgary man was caught at the Peace Arch with 183 pounds of cocaine and 55 pounds of heroin.
In October, another Canadian was caught with 192 pounds of cocaine. And in September, a California man suspected of killing his wife was nabbed in the same way.
As Schreiber sees it, there should be some unpredictability to border law enforcement.
"Being unpredictable is one of the factors we try to layer into our operations," Schreiber said.
On April 20, unpredictability went too far, Boos said. On that day at the Peace Arch, outbound inspections were conducted by shotgun-toting officers.
Duncan Millar, another immigration attorney, said he saw a similar display of shotguns the same evening at the Pacific Highway crossing.
"They were holding these things at the ready," Millar said. "It was very alarming."
The CBP's Schreiber described a shotgun as "a tool that is common in law enforcement," but he said the April 20 show of force was not routine.
On that night, Schreiber said, CBP received reports that the suspect in the shooting deaths of four people in a North Hollywood, Calif., restaurant might be headed north.
"If you see (shotguns) out of the ready rack, there is probably something going on," Schreiber said.
The shooting suspect was later arrested in the Seattle area.
But the added outbound security may have some indirect economic costs if it further discourages cross-border trade and tourism, long a mainstay of Whatcom County's economy. Millar said many of his Canadian clients are now crossing the border as little as possible.
"I've had some of them say, 'Forget it. I don't want to deal with it,'" Millar said.
Reach JOHN STARK at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-2274.
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