U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)has announced that it will hire an unprecedented 2,000 new officers, increasing the size of its workforce by about 10%. They will be deployed at 44 ports of entry in 18 states.
Among the cities that will get additional officers are New York; Los Angeles; Detroit; Buffalo, N.Y.; Houston; Dallas; Chicago; Las Vegas; New Orleans; Laredo, Texas; and Nogales, Ariz. The new officers will be deployed at air, land and sea ports.
Travel industry representatives praised the new hires but expressed concern about where they would be allocated.
Chris Thompson, CEO of Brand USA, which markets the U.S. to international visitors, called the new hires "welcome news," noting that it dovetails with the travel and tourism industry's efforts to alleviate pressure points in the entry process that can cause delays in certain ports of entry and at certain times of day.
"There is no better way to do that than to have human resources to alleviate the pressure points," he said.
Patricia Rojas-Ungar, vice president of government relations for the U.S. Travel Association, said, "Thankfully, Congress appropriated $255 million to hire these 2,000 officers."
An analysis by U.S. Travel found that some travelers were waiting up to five hours to be processed through Customs and pegged the cost of delaying visitors at about $95 billion.
However, Rojas-Ungar said CBP had not indicated how these new agents would be allocated, and the travel industry wants a significant number of these new agents assigned to airports.
"Our request is that at least 1,000 go to gateway airports," she said. "Millions of people enter the country through our airports."
U.S. Travel has set a goal of having 80% of all arriving travelers screened in 30 minutes.
"When you set a national goal like that, each airport can staff accordingly to meet that metric," she said. "As Congress allocates resources, agencies can consider how to improve security as well as the customer experience."
But land ports of entry are also vying for agents to facilitate cross-border trade and commerce.
"Delays at the border cause the U.S. economy to lose billions of dollars in trade and commerce," said Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), a member of the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee. The city of Laredo in his district is the largest inland port in the country, accounting for 45% of all trade with Mexico. The growth brings economic benefits, but it has also stretched CBP resources, he said.
CBP did not respond to requests from Travel Weekly for information about how the new officers would be deployed.