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Other Voices: Border-crossing bugs a threat

A new report on international port of entry staffing seems to offer two solutions regarding the ultimate goal of border security: Take more time inspecting goods — and further clog bridge flow and thus stifle commerce. Or, more adequately staff our ports.

This comes amid a report that it’s not only illegal drugs that cross. And it’s not only people who wish to do this country harm. An investigative arm of Congress now reports that understaffing U.S. ports of entry is causing an estimated “$136 million in lost agricultural revenue annually.”

Specifically, there is not enough port staffing to intercept infestations of exotic pests that can destroy high-yield crops and cause spikes in food prices. The Government Accountability Office also works with state governments. It made its report in September: “Homeland Security: Agriculture Inspection Program has Made Some Improvements, but Management Challenges Persist.”

In El Paso, we have long called for more bridge staffing, and our main concern is that long wait times hold back our local economy. More jobs would be created if more goods passed through our city. That calls for a speeding up of flow, and more bridge staffing can help accomplish that.

The GAO report repeated data that show Homeland Security has shifted about 1,500 agricultural inspectors to Customs and Border Protection whose primary function is to secure our borders. The report suggests a 32-percent increase in agricultural inspectors.

The report also recommends more pest-detecting canines; presently, most trained sniffers are being channeled off to detect illegal drugs.

This Homeland Security move can be judged as a quick-fix to help solve one threat while opening the path for another.

Agriculture is one of the nation’s largest job-producing sectors. Some 2 million people are employed — and it’s a $1 trillion annual business.

It might not seem like such a threat when a wood-boring beetle crosses into the U.S. But infestations are another matter. Wood-boring beetles and other exotic pests can not only affect crops, but can reap havoc on trees and livestock. Diseased livestock crossing into the U.S. also spreads disease.

Congress has not been acting on the GAO recommendations due it being an election year. However, President Barack Obama does have bridge-staffing increases awaiting congressional approval, the report noted.

The bottom line is border security involves more than just stopping drugs and terrorists. It also includes protecting our trillion-dollar agricultural industry.

El Paso Times