A new U.S. government program giving Mexicans “trusted traveler” status could be exploited by violent drug cartels, FoxNews.com reported Dec. 20. Under the new program, Mexican citizens can bypass some of the usual procedures of airport security when flying into major United States cities, zipping through Customs without being question by agents.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is allowing what is expected to be about 84 million Mexicans into the U.S. under the new “trusted traveler” program. Napolitano said: “Global Entry, as the program is called, expedites the customs and security process for trusted travelers…while helping DHS ensure the safety of all airline passengers.” It not only streamlines the international admissions process at airports, it also is an only slightly veiled effort to nail down the Hispanic vote for Obama’s run again for president.
Global entry was first proposed by Napolitano last month and is currently available at 20 U.S. international airports. She said “making Global Entry permanent will improve customer service at airports across the country and enable law enforcement to focus on higher-risk travelers.”
This “trusted traveler” program is being put into place at a time when violent drug cartels are taking over Mexico and sending their criminal elements north. The agreement permits Mexican airport people to screen their travelers. And who wouldn’t completely trust the competence of Mexicans to make sure the passengers were above suspicion?
Celebrating the traveler agreement, Mexico’s Interior Ministry Secretary, Francisco Blank assured all that the new accord would facilitate the entry of business travelers and tourists alike into the U.S. and that it will be a major factor in economic development, trade and cultural exchange. Naturally, no mention was made of drug lords or terrorists. According to the Mexican minister, Secretary Napolitano has committed to reducing the risk of life and security of immigrants. She even signed a “letter of intent” to develop a plan for protecting immigrants from criminal attacks as they cross the border—illegally—into the U.S. Mexican officials have complained against United States border agents, even contending they stand by while immigrants are hurt.
The trusted traveler program is an expansion of an existing trusting plan, the Global Entry Program, which was started in 2008 and expedites pre-approved passengers through customs at airports when the get to the U.S. It was supposed to weed out the lower-risk passengers so that airport authorities could focus on those more likely to pose a threat.
But critics say it could be exploited by drug cartels. The critics maintain that Mexico’s violent drug cartels will quickly find out how to exploit loopholes in the program. They point to the recent arrests of two pre-vetted “trusted travelers” who were caught attempting to smuggle marijuana and other contraband into the country through a Texas border checkpoint.
Sheriff Larry Dever of Cochise County, Arizona was quoted by Fox News.com as saying drug cartels could recruit Mexicans with backgrounds clean enough to attain “trusted traveler” status. These “clean” aides could be used to smuggle drugs and other contraband into the U.S. “We know even on this side of the border that drug cartels recruit people to apply for jobs with Customs and Border Protection—they keep them clean so they pass background checks,” he said.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesperson Joanne Ferreira said, “Trusted travelers are still subject to random searches. We do all these checks all the time.” Mexican citizens who apply for trusted traveler status pay a $100 application fee and are vetted by American as well as Mexican officials. If okayed for a five-year membership, information is entered into a database, which is rechecked every 24 hours, a DHS spokesperson said.
U.S. Citizens and residents who have gone through a vetting process, including fingerprinting and background checks, can attain a low-risk status under the Global Entry Program. It allows them to go past the line at Customs and finish their paperwork at a kiosk available at 20-odd airports.
Believe it or not, Mexican citizens already are eligible for expedited land border crossings through another “trust” program. Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection (SENTRI). Sounds good. But DHS officials admit that the system is not without flaws. Just a week ago, two SENTRI trusted travelers were snagged trying to bring contraband across the border into this country through the SENTRI-only express border crossing point.
Sheriff Dever said it (the arrests) just shows that drug cartels try to recruit people with clean backgrounds to be accepted into the SENTRI program. The drug business is “calculated and well planned, and they can develop these people early,” Dever added. “Drug smuggling, people smuggling, it’s very sophisticated, very thought-out.”
He was not pleased that Napolitano had rolled out the new “trust” program at this time. “People think it’s just destitute peasants trying to run across the border to get work.” It’s far from it.
Plainly the overly trusting program also is ripe for terrorist exploitation. If any terrorist group set about recruiting sympathetic U.S. citizens with no criminal record to join the Global Entry program, it could be disastrous for America.