DeConcini pedestrians

Pedestrians walk up the ramp onto Terrace Avenue after crossing through the DeConcini port on Wednesday afternoon. More CBP officers posted to Nogales has meant more open pedestrian processing lanes.

Ricardo Castro of Nogales, Sonora crossed through the pedestrian lanes at the Dennis DeConcini Port of Entry on Wednesday afternoon, stepping onto North Grand Avenue as he made his way into the United States.

Castro said he was able to cross into Nogales, Ariz within five minutes that afternoon. But the unusually short wait time at the port didn’t catch him by surprise – it’s part of a pattern he’s noticed of late.

“I cross about two to three times a week just to go to the stores. Since the start of this year to now, the wait times have only been about 10-15 minutes,” Castro said, adding that in other years, he had to wait for “more than an hour during the same time of year” to cross through the pedestrian lanes at the DeConcini port.

After a difficult year in which the reassignment of local U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers and CBP’s decision to seal off some vehicle lanes at the local ports led to long lines and extended wait times for people entering the country, things appear to be looking up.

Most of the closed lanes have now re-opened and people crossing the border on foot or in cars are reporting more tolerable wait times – as is CBP’s Border Wait Times app.

Officials are attributing the dramatic change to an increase in staffing, which allows CBP to process more people at a time.

“Between the number of people that are graduating the academy and the number of people that will be moving through the academy this year, Nogales ports of entry are considered to be fully staffed,” County Supervisor Bruce Bracker told the NI on Wednesday morning, adding that the staffing increase began last November.

Bracker said CBP took proactive steps, such as offering financial incentives to work at Arizona ports of entry, to address the ongoing staffing shortages.

While unable to provide specific numbers, CBP Officer Hugo Nuñez, the agency’s public affairs liaison in Nogales, confirmed that the increase in local personnel was a positive result of their hiring efforts, as well as a shift in staff within the federal agency.

“There is a combination of newly graduated CBP officers and those who have transferred from other port locations,” Nuñez wrote in an email. “The combination of experienced and new officers ensures our diverse staff is always prepared to professionally address any challenges we may face.”

Safety and efficiency

For Mayte Carolina Escobar, who said she crosses from Nogales, Sonora to the United States about twice a month, the short line she encountered on Wednesday afternoon was unexpected.

“It had honestly been a long time since I had crossed and most times I would have to wait an hour or more, but right now it was only five minutes,” she said, adding that she always chooses the DeConcini pedestrian port.

Shortly before noon on Thursday, CBP’s Border Wait Times app showed four of six pedestrian processing lanes were open at DeConcini, with a 10-minute expected wait time. With six of eight vehicle lanes open at DeConcini, the app showed no expected delays for private cars entering the United States.

That was a far cry from the delays of as long as eight hours that some returning holiday travelers experienced at the DeConcini vehicle lanes earlier this month, before CBP re-opened the lanes it had closed in November.

At the Mariposa port on Thursday, there were no expected delays for pedestrians or vehicles as of noon. The same was true at the Morley pedestrian gate, where all four lanes were open, according to the app.

But while more lanes have been open at the local ports in recent weeks, Nuñez told the NI that all lanes can’t be open at all times, despite the new staff.

“The additional personnel will improve both officer and public safety, as well as port efficiency,” he said, adding: “The Port of Nogales vehicle and pedestrian lanes are closely monitored by port management, and operations will adjust as needed.”

In March 2019, Michael Humphries, CBP’s port director in Nogales, told members of the local port authority that dozens of his officers were being deployed elsewhere to help the U.S. Border Patrol deal with a surge in asylum-seekers at the Texas border. He warned that wait times at the ports would get longer as a result.

Then, during the Thanksgiving weekend, CBP started sealing off vehicle lanes, saying the move was meant to stop asylum-seekers from rushing the ports. The lanes remained sealed throughout the busy Christmas season.

“At that point, they had to take officers off the lanes and put them into more of a security role to keep people from rushing the ports,” Bracker said. “That was really unfortunate for our community, but… in November, there were really no wait times for pedestrians.”

He expressed gratitude to CBP and state officials for their role in the hiring efforts that have led to the improved situation.

“We’re already seeing it, so it’s a really positive thing for our community,” he said.

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