U.S., Mexico reaffirm expansion of FAST program, border cooperation
The United States and Mexico pledged Friday to continue cooperation to combat drug smuggling and illegal immigration, as well as implement technological enhancements to enhance security while minimizing delays for commerce and travelers flowing across the border.
In his first visit to Mexico as U.S. Homeland Security secretary, Tom Ridge met with Mexican Interior Secretary Santiago Creel and signed the 2004 U.S.-Mexico Action Plan for Cooperation and Border Security, which consolidates various cooperative agreements previously initiated by the former Department of Immigration and Naturalization, Customs Service and other agencies with their Mexican counterparts.
As part of the action plan, the two governments reaffirmed their goal to open the Free and Secure Trade Program (FAST) for expedited, electronic clearance of low-risk commercial vehicles at five more ports of entry on the southern border. The program is in place in El Paso and Laredo, Texas, and will be phased in at the ports of Brownsville and Pharr, Texas; Nogales, Ariz; and Otay Mesa and Calexico, Calif., in 2004, according to a DHS fact sheet. However, the department on Monday published a statement of its priorities for its second year in which it said seven new FAST crossings will open on the U.S.-Mexico border by June, as well as six new FAST crossings on the border with Canada, bringing the total number to 18 checkpoints with FAST capability.
DHS could not be reached to comment by press time, but the discrepancy in the number of Mexican FAST outlets likely is a result of including existing FAST-enabled facilities in the seven total facilities that will be online by June.