Increasingly serious federal warnings about the threat of terrorism have caused U.S. Customs agents and airport security agencies to tighten security on the border and in the nation’s airports.
Last Friday, the Department of Homeland Security raised the national terror alert level from yellow to orange, signifying a shift from an “elevated” threat of terrorist action to a “heightened” threat.
In Detroit, Port Huron and other points of entry into the United States, border patrol agents are slowing travelers crossing in and out of Canada for more frequent and thorough vehicles searches. Cherise Miles of the U.S. Customs office said the searches are a precautionary measure and not necessarily a signal of impending danger.
“We don’t have a specific threat for the state of Michigan. This is consistent with border security across the country,” Miles said. She added that the tighter measures would not likely cause unreasonable traffic delays at the border, specifically for travelers crossing between Michigan and Canada.
“We’ve been able to keep the wait times down. If you look at Detroit you’re looking at around a 15-minute increase on average,” Miles said.
At the University, many students are unconcerned about the increased alert level, and in some cases, they are skeptical of the motives behind the increase.
“They probably have a good reason for (the raised alert), but I feel like it’s a way to get more support for the war,” LSA sophomore Heather McManus said. “But if we let what other people decide to do with their lives affect what we do with ours, we’re only going to live in fear.”
At Detroit Metro Airport, the heightened alert level has led to increased presence from uniformed security guards, altered traffic patterns and diminished patience for loading and unloading at the airport’s curbside entrances.
But Metro Airport officials said the changes have not negatively affected customer service and waiting times.
“What we’re doing is basically transparent for the customer, and the passenger screening lines won’t be any longer,” Metro airport spokesman Michael Conway said. “Both Attorney General John Ashcroft and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said that based upon intelligence they’ve received, there is no reason to change any travel plans.”
Conway added that many of the measures the airport is taking cannot be disclosed to the public for security reasons and that the real burden of the situation falls on uniformed agents working in the airports.
“The biggest strain is for the law enforcement agencies,” he said. “Officers are working more overtime than they would probably care to.”
Other students acknowledged that while the meaning of the alert is unclear, it might influence plans for international travel. “I think it might prevent me from going to some countries in Europe or the Middle East or something like that, but if I was going to Canada or Mexico it wouldn’t have much effect,” LSA sophomore Rasheeda Curry said.