Feds unveil system for speedier border crossings

EL PASO, Texas (AP) ? Federal officials in West Texas demonstrated a pilot program Thursday that aims to shorten the time it takes to cross into the U.S. from Mexico.

Under the program, which could be expanded nationwide if early results are favorable, U.S. citizens and people who frequently cross the border are able to apply for radio frequency cards that allow them to pass through security more quickly.

Three out of the 14 pedestrian lanes at the Paso del Norte port of entry in El Paso have been fitted with the new technology. During the wait time, an inspector can instantly retrieve a traveler’s information on a computer screen, allowing for a faster decision on whether it is safe to admit the person into the country.

Regina Gutierrez, a janitor who crosses every day from Ciudad Juarez to El Paso, said she can tell things have gotten faster since the program began Tuesday night.

“It used to be that I would wait half an hour to 45 minutes in the cold, but these two days it’s been really quick,” she said. “I’m going to start testing this new system, see how late I can get up and still make it on time to work.”

David Aguilar, the deputy commissioner for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said the program can save up to 18 seconds per traveler, representing a one-hour difference in wait time if there are 200 people in line.

Besides the advancements in the pedestrian crossing system, Aguilar also highlighted the expansion of the “Ready Lanes” program, which allows vehicles to cross more quickly. There also is a new shortwave AM radio station that will broadcast border crossing information to travelers.

Aguilar said that in January fingerprint scanning capabilities will be added to the system, although that will take a few months to implement.

“We believe through improvements to our operations, and with help from the traveling public, we can meet the highest calling of our security mission while accommodating and expediting traffic,” Aguilar said.