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Ridge announces border security upgrades

Better security is needed at the United States-Mexico border, said Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge during a recent meeting in Mexico City, Mexico. He said the border long ago outgrew the way it is managed, and it is important to find ways to create a smart, secure, friendly, 21st-century border.

Ridge met with Mexican officials to discuss a border management agreement similar to the one reached with Canada in December 2001, according to Associated Press reports. Computer technology would create a kind of international E-Zpass for lawful commerce. This electronic pass, which would identify containerized cargo and the shuttle drivers handling it, would free border guards and inspectors to concentrate more closely on suspicious people and goods.

Most importantly, the electronic pass should significantly reduce border-crossing delays. It currently takes two hours or more to cross at many US-Mexico border points. Officials on both sides of the border complain that tighter security has slowed the flow of commerce between the United States and Mexico. Business activity across the border has tripled since adoption of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994. Under that treaty, the border is to be fully opened in June to truck traffic between the United States and Mexico.

Other changes in border security also are planned. More than 1,500 National Guard troops are being deployed along US borders with Canada and Mexico. Ridge said that he plans to integrate the tangle of US agencies that supervise the borders and harmonize their work with their Mexican counterparts.

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