Border tour reinforces farmworker importance

A tour early this spring to the U.S.-Mexico border for the Arizona agricultural leadership group Project CENTRL at the San Luis, Ariz., Port of Entry was truly an eye-opening experience.

This journalist was invited to participate and accepted.

Anytime one visits an international line between two countries it is a serious experience. Good behavior and the appropriate travel documents in hand are a must to cross from one country to another.

Standing within feet of the international line, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Port Director Roque Caza said law enforcement is job one for the agency while keeping interstate commerce flowing across the border.

“It is an extremely complicated job at the port,” Caza told the group.

The San Luis Port of Entry is an extremely busy place. An estimated 45,000 people cross the border each weekday during the winter months to harvest fruits and vegetables on the U.S. side in this agriculturally-rich, low-desert region.

The San Luis Port has two crossings – Port I for passenger traffic and Port II for commercial traffic.

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Standing at Port I, Caza said the port is a hard narcotics entry for drug smugglers. The group walked through the inspection station where a black sedan sat with the doors wide open. Caza said millions of dollars of marijuana had been seized from the car the day prior.

Another major drug find occurred a few days earlier. A young man attempting to cross the border acted a bit nervous. Officers removed his oversized tennis shoes, pulled out the soles, and found heroin with a street value of about $1.5 million.

Essential to the CBP narcotics effort are drug-sniffing dogs used around the clock. Beagles and Labrador retrievers are the preferred breeds due their drug-sniffing ability and for their easy-going nature around people.

Later, the group toured the Port of Entry II where about 40,000 commercial vehicles pass through annually. I asked how often drugs were found in farm commodity loads passing through the port. Caza referenced a recent watermelon load with a large drug stash inside.

Caza pointed to a recent drug find at the Nogales, Ariz., Port of Entry, located to the east from San Luis, where 14,000 pounds of marijuana were found in a shipment of cucumbers.

The Project CENTRL class members (and this journalist) learned a very positive and valuable lesson from the tour.

For those crossing the border from Mexico to work on the U.S. (Arizona side), the commute can take up to five hours; including traveling from home to the border, waiting in the border line for hours, and then returning home to Mexico at the end of the day.

A five-hour commute and an eight-hour work day translates into 13-hour days for some farmworkers.

I have always appreciated farmworkers and their many contributions to agriculture. The border tour moved my respect for these hard-working people up several notches.

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