Border crackdown slowing commerce, investigation says

| 11/14/2003

A crackdown along the U.S.-Mexico border to prevent terrorists from entering the United States has instead resulted in long delays of commercial trucks and other traffic at various border locations – and no known militant has been stopped from entering the United States, according to an Associated Press investigation.

Instead, the tightening net of Border Patrol and Immigration agents has slowed trade, snarled traffic and cost American taxpayers millions, perhaps billions, of dollars, while hundreds of migrants have died trying to evade the growing army of border authorities.

Despite the crackdown, an AP investigation involving interviews with dozens of officials, immigration activists and migrants in Mexico, California, Arizona and Washington, turned up no evidence that any suspected terrorist has been prevented from coming to America.

Mauricio Juarez, a spokesman for the Mexican government's National Migration Institute, told The AP Mexico hasn't arrested a single terrorist suspect headed north. And he said the United States hasn't informed Mexico of any arrested on the U.S. side – something it presumably would do.

Spokesmen for the U.S. Border Patrol, the FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement say national security guidelines prevent them from saying whether any suspected terrorists have been arrested trying to cross the border from Mexico.

Robert Bonner, commissioner of the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, said "hundreds of people per year from ... high-interest countries, such as Pakistan" are turned back at legal border crossings from Mexico, but he didn't give any indication whether any of them were terrorists.

However, trade has slowed with stricter checks for trucks carrying merchandise across the border, especially when the U.S. terror alert is raised to orange. That has happened four times since the terror-alert system was introduced in March 2002.

"When the level is raised above yellow, it is much slower. They stop every car, every truck. It becomes a hurdle for business," said Maria Luisa O'Connell, general director of the nonprofit, Phoenix-based Border Trade Alliance.