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California

Feinstein wants to cut delays in customs processing at LAX

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Tuesday called on federal officials to find ways to eliminate long delays for passengers who go through immigration and customs processing at Los Angeles International Airport.

In a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, the California Democrat said she was concerned that a shortage of customs and immigration officers was causing unnecessary problems for travelers and increasing security risks at the nation’s third busiest airport.

“According to Los Angeles World Airports, thousands of passengers arriving from long flights are experiencing delays of up to three hours due to inadequate staffing,” Feinstein told Napolitano. “Furthermore, I am concerned that having a limited number of Customs and Border Protection agents available to process thousands of passengers through primary and secondary screening stations could result in the degradation of security at the airport.”

Feinstein asked Napolitano to report back on how many agents would be needed to process arriving international passengers within 45 minutes. The senator also questioned whether staff shortages were contributing to a reduction in security at LAX and asked for information on any plans to increase staffing to accommodate airport expansion.

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“Given the importance that LAX serves as an international gateway to the United States, it is vital that staffing is provided to maintain effective operations,” Feinstein wrote.

Customs and immigration staffing has been a longstanding problem at LAX. It became so acute last summer that airport officials formally complained to Alan D. Bersin, the head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security.

The complaint noted that on one day in July only a third of the airport’s 60 immigration booths were staffed and more than 2,700 international passengers had to be held on planes because of processing delays.

Airport officials warned that if the shortages persist a multibillion-dollar investment to expand the Tom Bradley International Terminal and its federal inspection station will be wasted.

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Customs and Border Protection officials have said that they try to work with local authorities and evaluate personnel needs to facilitate passenger travel at all ports of entry.

dan.weikel@latimes.com


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