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Dianne Feinstein calls for review of LAX customs delays

December 20, 2011 |  2:02 pm

LAX passengers
Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Tuesday called on the Department of Homeland Security to find ways to eliminate long delays at Los Angeles International Airport for passengers during  immigration and customs processing.

In a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, the California Democrat said she was concerned that a shortage of customs and immigration officials was causing unnecessary problems for travelers and 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 indicate how many agents would be needed to process arriving international passengers within 45 minutes, whether staff shortages were contributing to a reduction in security at LAX, whether there are any plans to increase staffing to accommodate airport expansion, and how staffing needs compare to current levels.

“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 within 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.

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


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Photo: Passengers arriving at LAX. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times