Question: My husband and I applied to renew our Global Entry card after being notified in May they would expire in July. We submitted the renewal forms and payments of $100 each on credit cards; each of the payments cleared. Customs and Border Protection is impossible to reach by telephone or email.
Answer: Let’s skip to the good news: Appel got her Global Entry card, which gives you PreCheck, the expedited passage through airport security, and, separately, expedited clearance through U.S. Customs.
Don’t thank me; I played no role in this happy outcome. But don’t thank Customs and Border Protection either, at least not until you read to the end of this column.
As I tried to make sense of this spaghetti, I’ve learned a few things about why you may not have received your card. And I’ve also learned that poking a sleeping bear gets you exactly what you think it will.
Ready? Take a deep breath and plunge ahead, especially if you haven’t had your daily dose of outrage.
Where the ho-hum is my card?
Probably stuck with about 300,000 others that CBP says are pending.
But let’s start at the beginning. To get a Global Entry card, which confers on you Trusted Traveler status for five years if your application is approved, you fill out a form at bit.ly/globalentryapp, pay $100 (which you don’t get back if you’re not approved), are interviewed and get your card, assuming you pass the background check.
Global Entry has been around about five years, which means it’s time for that first crush of GE members to renew.
In ordinary circumstances, the wait time for approval is four to six weeks, CBP told me. I submitted my renewal in early or mid-December and had my card at the beginning of the year. That’s noteworthy because the partial government shutdown began just after midnight (Eastern time) on Dec. 22. It lasted 35 days. Let the backlog begin.
Apparently, the program is quite popular and has had what CBP called in an email a “historic increase of new applications and renewals.”
Then, some CBP personnel were reassigned to deal with what CBP called the “ongoing humanitarian and security crisis on our southern border.” For Southern Californians, that meant the LAX Global Entry office at 11099 S. La Cienega Blvd., Suite 155, closed June 23 so personnel could be redeployed.
That meant some applicants or card renewers arrived and found the office locked and dark. The only nearby office is in Long Beach, which is open 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. (LAX hours were 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, according to a phone recording.)
Because of this, getting an appointment can take a month or two, CBP said.
But as baseball fans know, when the ball is dropped, you run to first anyway. You’re not completely out, and you won’t know if you don’t try.
What you can do
No easy fixes for this, I’m afraid, but here are some things that might work:
▶If you need an appointment and can’t get one, check often to see whether time has opened because of a cancellation. You’ll need to do this with your Global Entry sign on.
▶If you’re willing to go farther afield, other offices may be less crowded.
Richard Guy of Sherman Oaks went to San Ysidro, a seven-hour round trip. It took most of a day, he said, but it was worth it. To find the list of California offices, go to bit.ly/OtherCBPoffices
▶If you’re returning from an international trip, you can enroll on arrival (the EoA program) at LAX, said Jaime Ruiz, a CBP spokesman. You do not need an appointment. Just follow the signs to the Global Entry interview.
▶If your application says pending, go to ttp.cbp.dhs.gov, where you can check the status.
▶Stay calm. The good news is that if you have applied for a renewal, CBP is granting a grace period “from six months to one year beyond the expiration date.” CBP doesn’t explain who gets six months or who gets one year, but either way, it’s better than getting the boot because of their problems.
And don’t bother us again!
A frustrated Appel turned to the office of Rep. Katie Porter (D-Irvine) to see whether her staff could help clear the logjam blocking Appel’s Global Entry application.
In response to an inquiry from Porter’s office, CBP replied, “Because applicants can check on the status of their applications at any time and because of the high volume of Trusted Traveler inquiries currently pending with CBP, we kindly request that your office refrain from requesting additional updates...so that we may focus our time and resources to addressing new and unanswered inquiries.”
Here is Porter’s response to CBP’s response. “I take every part of my job as a congressmember seriously — that includes helping 45th District residents get answers from federal agencies,” Porter said in an email after we requested her reaction.
“CBP’s suggestion that I refrain from doing that part of my job is deeply problematic, and it will not deter me from cutting through agency red tape on behalf of my constituents.”
Round of applause here.
Appel isn’t the only one who has struggled with this issue. Joel Lupkin of Calabasas and I have been communicating for several weeks about his struggles to get his renewal, submitted in May, off dead center.
In an email to me last week, he wrote, “Without a doubt at my age (70), [this is] the most frustrating thing I have ever been through.”
In a second email, he shared the letter he just received from CBP saying his application had been “conditionally approved.” But he has to appear for a second interview (which sometimes happens).
“We are booked through March 2020 and currently scheduling appointments for April 2020,” the letter said. By my count, that’s more than six months away.
To be fair, getting through airport security and customs faster isn’t a matter of life and death. But to also be fair, isn’t the flying public the customer here? If so, why is it OK for any government agency to put the “cuss” in customer service?
That just makes me gosh darn mad.
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