Ruckus brings changes at Santa Teresa Border Crossing

Posted: Sunday, February 17, 2013 6:00 pm
By David Crowder El Paso Inc. staff

An altercation among used vehicle exporters at the Santa Teresa Port of Entry Feb. 8 has led to new procedures on the U.S. side that will expedite the port’s booming export trade.

The fracas that prompted the changes involved drivers hired to export vehicles into Mexico who were waiting in line and frustrated by a new 240-vehicle limit imposed by the Santa Teresa port on the number of vehicles that the port would handle each day.

“What happened unfortunately involves a threat of officer safety because people were not complying with what we were telling them,” said Customs and Border Protection’s port director Joanne Thale-Lembo. “They would not step back.

“So, we had to stop the insanity at that point.”

All that required was a halt to the processing of vehicle export paperwork for the day.

After that, Thale-Lembo said, she decided it was time to re-examine and streamline the export process on the U.S. side.

She said the new procedures were hammered out at a meeting she called Wednesday with U.S. and Mexican customs officials, export-import brokers and others at the offices of the New Mexico Border Authority.

“Everybody walked away happy, understanding what needs to be done and why,” Thale-Lembo said. “All of this came about in the midst of us trying to streamline this and make it better for everybody.

“Now, we’ve come up with a better plan.”

That plan went into effect the next day, Valentine’s Day, allowing exporters to file the required documents for each vehicle electronically and eliminating a manual document inspection and stamp by U.S. Customs.

Thale-Lembo also lifted the 240-vehicle daily limit she recently imposed. Now, she said, the port will handle as many vehicles as Mexico can take each day.

Princess Trillo, whose mother is in the business of exporting used cars bought at auctions and junkyards in the U.S. to Mexico, said the effect of the changes implemented Thursday was immediate.

“My mom is very pleased and everyone is very much pleased with the new process,” Trillo said. “It will significantly improve the situation and make it easier for them to do their jobs.”

Before, she said, people would line up at the Santa Teresa port to submit the vehicle documents that had to be filed 72 hours before the vehicles could be driven or hauled into Mexico for sale. Those documents can now be filed electronically.

After the 72-hour waiting period, the drivers paid to cross hundreds of vehicles would park along the road to the port and wait to be cleared to cross. Sometimes the lines stretch a mile.

“Now, cars can cross directly to Mexico without further examination from an officer,” Trillo said in an email. “In my mother’s own words, ‘We could not have asked for more.’ ”

On Friday, she said, the line heading south to the border was gone.

Referring to Thale-Lembo, Trillo said, “She did a great job. Before, they would have to wait on both sides of the border, and it could take all day.

“Now, she’s cut that in half for them.”