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Business backed up at Mexican border

A Customs and Border Protection officer checks passports at the passport control booth in Miami.

TEXT OF STORY

Doug Krizner: There are now stricter travel rules when crossing the U.S. borders with Mexico and Canada. Gone are the days when you could simply state your nationality to a border agent. If you're a U.S. citizen re-entering the country, you need a passport or driver's license.

So how are these changes playing out in business on the border? Texas Public Radio's David Martin Davies has this story from Laredo.


David Martin Davies Laredo's Wal-Mart is one of America's busiest. It's three miles from the Mexican border. Mexican shoppers cross the nearby bridges legally every day to shop there. They boost Laredo's retail sales by about 40 percent. Traffic coming over the bridges has always been jammed.

But Roger Creery of the Laredo Development Foundation says now it's even slower, because of all the Americans waiting in line to have border agents inspect their documents.

Roger Creery: At what point does the Mexican consumer say, "Wait a minute -- I'm not going to sit an extra six, eight, 10 hours in line at the U.S. border to go over and shop. I'm just not going to do it anymore."

As a businessman, Creery wants to keep the customers happy. But the Department of Homeland Security wants to do what it takes to keep the U.S. safe.

Rick Pauza is a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection stationed in Laredo:

Ric Pauza: The whole idea is, you know, to prevent someone like a terrorist from coming in and pretending they are a U.S. citizen.

According to the U.S. government, between October and December of last year, 1,500 people claimed falsely that they were U.S. citizens at U.S. ports of entry. The new program is working to ferret out even more pretenders that the government thinks have been crossing the border.

Pauza says that isn't slowing things down. But business leaders, like Creery, say Washington just doesn't get the economic implications.

Creery: I think we all recognize that we have to be able to strike a balance between the safety and security of our nation and the future development of a vibrant economy throughout the United States -- certainly along the border.

James Gerber, an economist at San Diego State University, says Washington is willing to sacrifice business for the sake of security. American car part factories, for example, depend on nearby Mexican factories for just-in-time components, like seat belts. So a slowdown at the border can snarl up more than just traffic.

In Laredo, Texas, I'm David Martin Davies for Marketplace.

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