CNMI Officials To Meet With U.S. Customs Director About Long Lines At Airport

More personnel needed to eliminate waits of up to 5 hours at busy times

By Emmanuel T. Erediano 

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, March 8, 2017) – U.S. Customs and Border Protection Field Operations Director Brian J. Humphrey will “soon” meet with CNMI officials to discuss the long lines at the Francisco C. Ada/Saipan International Airport.

House Transportation Committee Chairman Donald C. Barcinas and Vice Chairman Francisco S. Dela Cruz said that, during their meeting with CBP Director for NMI Robert Havens on Monday, they and other House members recommended possible solutions to speed up the screening of passengers at the airport.

One of these is to bring in more CBP officers, so they scheduled a meeting with Humphrey who is based in San Francisco but will visit the island “sometime in the next two months.”

“We asked to meet with Mr. Humprey who, Mr. Havens said, makes the decisions as to how we can get more CBP personnel on Saipan,” Dela Cruz said.

Early Sunday morning, passengers who arrived on Saipan had to wait for up to five hours before CBP could process them.

Among the solutions proposed by CNMI lawmakers on Monday was the installation of additional     Automated Passport Control machines which would expedite the entry process for passengers by allowing them to submit their customs declarations and biographic information electronically.

Barcinas said they were told that CBP has just two APC machines at the Saipan airport.

“I think we can identify local funding for additional machines,” he added.

Another proposal is to assign more CBP personnel during peak hours, Dela Cruz said.

For his part, Rep. Lorenzo I. Deleon Guerrero said perhaps the Commonwealth Ports Authority, the Marianas Visitor Authority and CBP can work with airline companies to come up with new schedules so that flights will not arrive one after the other during the early morning hours.

Dela Cruz said he believes CPA has the authority to make changes to the flight schedules.

“But then, I guess the bigger question is, will we lose those flights if we impose our own schedules?”

CPA board member Barry Toves earlier told Variety, “Would CPA prohibit new airlines from scheduling their arrivals in the heavy hours from midnight to 5 a.m.? That is something we have to scrutinize very, very carefully, and I am not comfortable supporting a policy that keeps any airline from establishing a route with Saipan. We don’t want CPA to be the sacrificial lamb to carry the blame for putting the brakes on tourism growth. But something needs to be done to address this matter on the federal level so that CBP is able to increase its staffing.”

Dela Cruz said he also believes that additional CBP officers will reduce the processing time.

But Havens told them that the lateral transfers of CBP officers from other states has “proven to be difficult” because most do not want to move here. For one thing, moving here can be costly especially if they have a family to bring with them.

Barcinas said “borrowing” CBP officers from Guam is another possible solution. The only problem with that, he added, is that there are CBP officers from Guam who have been discouraged from coming to Saipan, especially by those who have had bad experiences here.

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