Sunday, September 8, 2013
Holders of the SENTRI pass that let's you speed through the United States-Mexico border will no longer have a decal identifying their cars as SENTRI approved. Some SENTRI holders feared the decals made them easy targets for drug traffickers.
SENTRI users are subject to a vigorous background check and an interview with a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer. In exchange, they get expedited screening when coming across the border into the U.S.
But drug traffickers have used some SENTRI pass holders as unwitting couriers.
"These are people, for example, that have a pattern in crossing the border," said Alejandra Mier y Teran, executive director of the Otay Mesa Chamber of Commerce, which lobbied CBP to ditch the SENTRI decals.
"So criminals are following these people, they're learning their patterns, and basically what they were doing is putting drugs under their vehicles with magnets, for example, and then retrieving them when they parked on the U.S. side of the border."
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security warned border crossers about the tactic last summer.
In one well-publicized case, a popular teacher and SENTRI user in El Paso was thrown in jail after CBP agents discovered more than 100 pounds of marijuana in her trunk at the border. FBI agents later uncovered a smuggling ring that was using the teacher and other SENTI pass holders as unwitting drug mules.
A CBP spokeswoman said the SENTRI windshield decals were no longer being issued because CBP no longer needed them to identify SENTRI vehicles.
SENTRI pass holders who already have decals on their cars can remove them if they wish, she said.
Mier y Teran said the Chamber, which includes many business owners who cross the border daily, was pleased with the change. But she hopes CBP will soon abandon the whole process of screening and approving vehicles for the SENTRI program and just screen the drivers.
NEXUS, CBP's trusted traveler program on the U.S.-Canadian border, does not include vehicle screening.
Mier y Teran said pre-inspecting vehicles was a waste of money.
"We don't think it's necessary," she said. "Individuals already go through an extensive background check with all the federal agencies."
At a time when the government is looking to reduce costs, she said, "we need to invest our resources where they make the most sense, and that certainly is, we believe, in making our border crossing more efficient."