Bill May Speed Commute for Cross-Border Drivers
BY MANDY JACKSON
Congresswoman Susan Davis has introduced a bill in Congress that would expand the popular SENTRI program.
The Immigration and Naturalization Service introduced SENTRI , Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection , in San Diego in 1995. The program provides passes for pre-screened commuters to use a dedicated lane at border crossings.
It is being used at the San Ysidro and Otay Mesa crossings, where more than 5,000 drivers use the SENTRI lane each day.
According to Davis, D-San Diego, it is taking six months to approve new passes and 9,000 people are on the waiting list.
In Davis’ bill, co-sponsored by Congressman Bob Filner, D-Chula Vista, SENTRI would become a permanent program and passes would be renewed every two years instead of annually.
“Two years ought to be a reasonable amount of time,” Davis said. Low-risk travelers, screened by the INS, should be expedited across the border, she said, so INS and U.S. Customs inspectors at the border can focus on high-risk crossers.
“It’s high time that we started using technology to improve border congestion and security,” Filner said in an announcement after the bill was introduced to the House of Representatives last month.
San Diego resident Cheryl Hammond uses her SENTRI pass about once a week to drive to Mexico and back to her office at AT & T; in Del Mar. Hammond is director of sales for international services in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean.
She estimates her SENTRI pass saves her an hour to an hour and a half of waiting to cross the border.
“It really, really facilitates your ability to do business,” she said.
Hammond has had her SENTRI pass since the program began. Initially it took eight weeks for her pass to be issued after she submitted her paperwork in person.
“They’ve definitely streamlined the process (for renewals),” Hammond said.
Renewed passes are issued on the spot, she noted. Still, having to resubmit her paperwork every two years instead of annually would be better.
Davis’ legislation provides funding the INS needs for processing applications and running background checks more quickly.
Before drafting the bill, Davis was contacted by people on both sides of the border waiting for SENTRI applications to be processed.
“Really low-risk travelers have been doing it for years. Clearly these are people that support cross-border commerce,” Davis said.
Beyond making it easier for business people to get to and from meetings, and shoppers to get to stores, Davis said frequent recreational travelers should also benefit. She said there is no reason to spend a lot of time scrutinizing those travelers every time they cross the border.
Alejandra Mier y Teran, executive director of the Otay Mesa Chamber of Commerce, said she and her husband have SENTRI passes. Her husband works in Tijuana and they live in Chula Vista. Everyone on the chamber’s staff has a pass, as do many of the organization’s members.
“To me, it’s a no-brainer. It lets people work, shop and do things that are legal,” Mier y Teran said.
Davis said the bill might not be approved this year, as some congressional committees are beginning to wrap up for the year. However, there might be some hearings on it this year.