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Christensen Meets With Feds Over Mail Delays, Travel Issues

With the territory facing numerous U.S. Customs and Border Protection issues, Delegate Donna M. Christensen met Monday in Puerto Rico to discuss travel and shipping concerns with Customs and Trade officials.

On hand for the meeting were Customs’ Field Operations Director Marcelino Borges and Trade Office Assistant Director Mirella Couto.

Issues with the territory’s mail delivery remain on the front burner. As it has for numerous years, the delegate’s office continues to receive complaints concerning lost, damaged and confiscated packages sent through the mail. Christensen said that communication issues still persist between the U.S. Postal Service and Customs, hampering the tracking and delivery of mail detained and held for inspection and collection of duties.

“We will continue to work with the U.S. Postal Service and Customs and Border Protection, as well as other federal agencies to facilitate the efficient delivery of mail to and from the territory.”

All mail leaving the territory – letters, packages and anything else being mailed – is checked by Customs in Puerto Rico, Christensen said. She said that post office workers should be prepared to educate customers on what they should do to ensure timely delivery.

To make sure their mail is not delayed, Christensen said they should correctly and accurately identify the contents and their worth. Customs officials also recommend attaching receipts outside to avoid packages being held. She said that if Customs has to investigate its contents, it will be delayed.

“You can send something Express Mail, and it’s supposed to get there in two days but it can get hung up in Customs,” Christensen said.

Businesses are encouraged to fill out required forms and to advise their customers of when an item will incur a duty if shipped.

Christensen said certain products, such as jewelry made in the Virgin Islands by certified manufacturers, are not subject to a duty. Additionally, unset gemstones are also not subject to Customs duty, Christensen said. Customs officials also said that gifts being sent through the mail should be so marked as gifts. Anything valued under $200 will not be taxed.

“One of my goals will be to increase that $200 limit,” Christensen said.

Customs officials reported that contraband such as drugs and guns are shipped from the U.S. Virgin Islands on a daily basis. Christensen said that these and other unallowable items sent through the mail, as well as money laundering, are major concerns for the agency.

However, she received clarification that packaged food items, with the exception of certain fruits like mangoes, which carry a parasite, would not result in a Customs delay. If being sent for personal use, conch would only be held during the closed season when conch fishing is not allowed.

Christensen said she was surprised to learn of the amount of coral being shipped out given the deteriorated state of the territory’s coral reefs. She said shipping coral was not allowed.

Also discussed was the U.S. Postal Service’s rule that an individual is prohibited from sending more than $3,000 in money orders at one time. Christensen was informed that Customs is trying to stay on top of money-laundering efforts, which they reported is huge problem.

Christensen and Customs official also discussed difficulties encountered by people traveling from the territory to Puerto Rico and to the continental United States. The discussion included the Homeland Security Department’s newly improved Traveler Redress Inquiry Program.

The online program assists persons who experienced problems traveling into the United States. They include repeated referrals for security screenings, being denied boarding or entry into the United States because of inaccurate or incorrect information about them in law enforcement records, or because they have been confused with someone who is a concern to U.S. authorities.

Christensen said her district offices have received several complaints from constituents who reported being wrongly stopped or delayed by Customs officers and who are having difficulty seeking redress from the agency. Christensen added that with the improved system, she hopes that individuals who were wrongly detained will be able to resolve the matter and travel again without any problems.

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