BY MONICA ORTIZ URIBE — When it comes to the southern border, the United States Congress wants to put up a big red stoplight: Stop the flow of drugs, stop illegal immigration and stop the terrorists.
Last year Congress spent more on securing the border than it did on all federal law enforcement combined. Critics argue the lockdown at the border chokes billions of dollars worth of legitimate traffic.
Alejandro Rivera is a big rig trucker who chauffeurs goods between the U.S.-Mexico border for an American logistics company based in El Paso, Texas. On a good day he'll accomplish two round-trips, rarely adding more than 70 miles to his odometer.
"Since the 9/11 everything changed," Rivera said. "Before we used to cross in five minutes, ten minutes. Now it takes us about three hours, two hours, because of the long lines."
Rivera referred to long lines at the border crossing. It's a complaint echoed from San Diego to Brownsville. Some five million trucks per year are subject to costly delays as a result of rigorous security measures put in place in the last decade. These delays affect the timeliness of a trucker’s delivery.
"These big lines have economic costs. Billions of dollars a year in lost growth for the United States and Mexico," said Chris Wilson, who studies the economics of trade for the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington D.C.
Wilson said trade between the U.S. and Mexico quintupled in the last 20 years. Some 6 million U.S. jobs depend on trade with Mexico. That includes companies like Dell and Ford as well as smaller businesses that make medical devices or auto parts.
Just how long are the wait times? A trip across the border with Rivera provided some insight.
Rivera began his daily routine at a factory in the Mexican border city of Juarez. Before departing he called his dispatcher and noted the time.
On this particular trip Rivera carried a load of plastic mannequins. They're made by factory workers in Juárez who earn $10 a day. Rivera's job is to transport them to a warehouse in El Paso about 20 miles away. From there the mannequins will ship across the U.S. to stores like Nike and JCPenney.
When Rivera reached U.S. Customs on the American side of the border bridge, an officer ordered his truck to be X-Rayed. Afterward an officer unloaded half his cargo and inspected the trailer for anything illegal.
The company Rivera works for has a special certification called C-TPAT that usually allows their trucks expedited passage. Only about 1 percent of the company's cargo goes through lengthy searches. Before, when Rivera worked for a non-certified company, he said he faced prolonged inspections everyday.
All commercial traffic at this particular crossing must clear four separate agencies: Mexican customs, American customs, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Texas Department of Public Safety. In total Rivera clocked in two and half hours at the bridge.
"Sometimes the customer doesn't understand all the process that we have to make," Rivera said. "They want their load.”