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Sequestration could mean longer wait times at border
Leticia Aragon already hears complaints from her customers from Mexico about long waits in line to cross the border to San Luis, Ariz., where she owns and operates a women's boutique, Bella Fashion.
And Aragon is concerned the wait times could become even longer if work furloughs forced by sequestration leaves the U.S. Port of Entry at San Luis, Ariz., with fewer officers to staff vehicle and pedestrian lines into the United States.
That, she fears, could discourage people from coming across to shop in the Arizona border city, where many merchants do half or more of their business with consumers from Mexico.
“I think that, yes, it's going to have an effect,” said Aragon, whose shop is within yards of the international boundary. “They (consumers from Mexico) like to come here to spend their money, but if they have to wait more than an hour in line, they're not going to do it.”
San Luis Mayor Gerardo Sanchez also fears longer lines could mean fewer shoppers from Mexico, whose purchases help bring in sales tax revenue to the city's coffers.
“If the people wait longer to cross, there will be that much more stress on the economy of San Luis,” Sanchez said, “but Yuma and the county are also going to be affected.”
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which operates ports of entry on the U.S.-Mexico border, finds itself in the same situation as other federal agencies whose employees are being required to take periodic furloughs up to the end of fiscal year Sept. 30 as part of across-the-board spending cuts mandated by sequestration.
In a statement, CBP said the public should expect longer wait times to cross the border from Mexico, although it could not predict how long those waits could be at San Luis or at Andrade, Calif., across from Los Algodones, Baja Calif.
“CBP will continue to make every effort to minimize the sequester's impact on public safety and national security, but expects that planned furlough of employees, along with reductions to overtime and hiring freeze will increase wait times at ports of entry, including international arrivals at airports, and reduce staffing between land ports of entry,” CBP said.
CBP spokesmen for ports at San Luis and Andrade declined to comment on sequestration, instead furnishing the agency's prepared statement to Bajo El Sol.
Sanchez was among area officials who have met recently with CBP officials at San Luis regarding the possible impacts of furloughs on border wait times.
“The message from the CBP supervisors was very positive in that they are going to try to keep the (wait times) at a minimum,” said Sanchez, “but they didn't make promises. They said they are going to make the necessary adjustments, first to guarantee the security of the ports, and then to facilitate the movement of people and vehicles across the border.”
Still, he added, sequestration stands to impact the Arizona border communities, given that Mexican shoppers represent half or more of many businesses' customers and given that they contribute more than half of the sales tax revenue collected by the city.
“Every time that a lane is closed (at the port), it means less revenue not only for us, but for the other cities in the county.”
For the moment, city of Yuma officials are taking a wait-and-see approach to the possible financial impact of longer wait times, city spokesman Dave Nash said.
“We don't see a big impact from it, at least not right off the bat,” he said.
Somerton Mayor Martin Porchas said many consumers from that country cross the border specifically to patronize businesses in city. Others, he added, stop in his city on the way to and from other destinations in the county or state.
“I think it affects our entire county,” said Porchas.
Aragon said sequestration also could end up having an effect on San Luis Rio Colorado if residents of Yuma County accustomed to going south of the border to eat or shop are less likely to do so, knowing they will face long lines on their return to the United States.
“We're all interconnected.”