There is apprehension among political leaders, local law enforcement, National Transportation Authority officials, Transportation Security Administration, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Transportation Security Administration, FBI, the U.S. Department of Justice and Interpol over the establishment of the Global Entry Enrollment Center at Ontario International Airport.
In recent years Ontario International Airport has become a hotbed of document and money smuggling/transfer/exchange operations, in many cases involving government and corporate officials seeking to overcome constantly shifting and evolving regulations relating to materials, equipment, licenses and property purchases in which both American citizens and foreeign nationals are involved. Ontario International, as a lesser-used international airport, does not have the same intensity of scrutiny by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency as larger international airports in Southern California, such as Los Angeles International Airport, San Diego International Airport, John Wayne International Airport. Ontario, with its 17 airlines and 5,740,593 total passengers in 2022 compared to Los Angeles International’s 79 airlines 65.29 million total passengers, garnered little attention from Customs. Less than .03 of one percent of the agency’s $16.29 billion 2022 budget was spent in Ontario and fewer than a dozen of its more than 60,450 employees were assigned there during that time.
Politicians who have been tweaking governmental policy and decisions in favor of foreign businesses, foreign governments and internationalist interests without registering as foreign agents, which would potentisally undercut their effectiveness as shapers of policy in their elected capacities, have utilized offshore accounts to collect payments from their foreign employers but often have difficulty in transferring those funds to one of their domestic accounts without alerting authorities and triggering notification/investigation by the IRS or state taxing authorities. Consequently, governmental officials who are seeking to fly under the radar of the U.S. federal government with regard to the monetary transactions they engage in on foreign soil are commonly interested in converting that money into U.S. currency while out of the country and then bringing it into the country undeclared.
As Ontario International Airport was already a popular port for that activity, doing so just became that much easier as the airport board was able to successfully lobby U.S. Department of Homeland Security Chief Alejandro Mayorkas to allow the airport and and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency to establish a Global Entry Enrollment Center at the airport’s international terminal.
According to the Ontario International Airport Authority, “The new center is the sixth in California and will offer a convenient, local option for international travelers from the Inland Empire and nearby communities who wish to enroll in the popular program that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States. Up until now, the nearest Global Entry Enrollment Center has been at Los Angeles International Airport.”
Ontario City Councilman Alan D. Wapner has served as president of the Ontario International Airport Authority Board of Commissioners since the creation of that entity more than a decade ago in anticipation of the conclusion of Ontario’s successful effort to liberate the airport from the control of the City of Los Angeles and its Department of Airports, which was effectuated in 2015, thirty years after Ontario transferred control of the airport to the megalopolis to the west in 1985, as a condition of a joint powers arrangement that allowed the much larger entity to bring its leverage as one of the operator of one of the world’s largest airports to bear in convincing airlines to increase their ridership at the Ontario aerodrome. After the number of passengers passing through Ontario’s gates peaked at 7.2 million in 2007, the downturn in the economy triggered a decrease in airline use altogether, and Wapner spearheaded an effort to once again have local control over the airport by having Ontario assume from the Los Angeles Department of Airports both ownership and management of the facility. That goal was achieved with the December 2015 agreement between Los Angeles and Ontario to have Los Angeles transfer ownership of the airfield and responsibility for its operations to Ontario for a series of payments by Ontario totaling $250 million.
Yesterday, a ribbon cutting for the new expedited customs desk at Ontario was held. Wapner hailed the development.
“We are thrilled that U.S. Customs and Border Protection has selected Ontario International Airport to serve as the site of its newest Global Entry Enrollment Center and look forward to helping residents across Southern California access this time-saving international travel amenity,” Wapner said.
“The new center reflects U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s commitment to improving the customer experience as Global Entry continues to attract thousands of new applicants in the Greater Los Angeles area and neighboring communities,” said Cheryl M. Davies, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Director of Field Operations in Los Angeles. “We are very pleased with this expansion which brings visitors to the area and helps boost the local economy.”
“Ontario International Airport is a valued asset for the Inland Empire. As your Congresswoman, I am proud to have supported this project and others like to ensure ONT – which sits in the heart of our district – can get people and cargo where they need to be quickly and efficiently,” said Congresswoman Norma J. Torres (CA-35).
Global Entry uses specialized processing technology and dedicated lanes to expedite clearance for arriving international travelers who have passed what the Ontario International Airport Authority characterized as “a rigorous background check and in-person interview.” To set up an interview at the Global Entry Enrollment Center, travelers must first receive on-line pre-approval.”
Global Entry would allow an individual being processed who is carrying cash secreted about himself/herself or within his/her luggage to successfully import that money without detection.
Participating in yesterday’s ribbon-cutting with Wapner was another member of the airport board, San Bernardino County Supervisor Curt Hagman.
In 2014, Hagman, who was then serving in the California Assembly but was due to be termed out of the legislature that year, ran successfully for Fourth District supervisor. Shortly after being installed as supervisor, Hagman assumed a position on the airport board, a post he has held ever since, based on his reelection to the county board of supervisors in 2018 and 2022. In a development noted by many, in 2015 Hagman hired Wapner to serve as his policy advisor in his county supervisor’s office. The arrangement raised eyebrows at it created a circumstance in which Wapner, in one sense of the word, was Hagman’s superior on the airport board while Hagman was Wapner’s boss in that Wapner was working for him as a member of his supervisorial staff.
Wapner and Hagman over the next two-and-a-half years made several trips to China to promote Ontario International Airport as a destination with Chinese airlines as well as general opportunities for economic cooperation, investment and expansion involving Chinese capital and companies and investment opportunities and projects in and around Ontrario and San Bernardino County. When it was suggested, however, that Hagman’s and Wapner’s discussions did not confine themselves to meetings with airline executives but that they were actively recruiting Chinese Communist capitalists to make investments in property around the airport, concerns about the wisdom of allowing China to take a lead in developing and thereafter controlling assets that are key to the region’s economy resulted in a years-long paralysis with regard to development in the district around the airport.
There ensued questions about the scope and depth of the discussions that were taking place between Wapner and Chinese business and economic interests as well as between Wapner and Chinese business and economic interests along with what the nature of the relationship was between the two politicians and those foreign economic interests. In late 2018, after a decent interim following Hagman’s relection as supervisor, he ended Wapner’s tenure as his political adviser, a development not particularly well appreciated by Wapner. Wapner has remained as the dominant force on the airport authority and Hagman has remained as an airport authority board member.
The establishment of the Global Entry Enrollment Center at Ontario International Airport comes as the airport is seen international travel volumes double over the past year, with popular direct flights to Tqiwan, Mexico and Latin America. In October, Ontario International Airport and the Customs and Board Patrol Agency partnered to introduce another international travel amenity, Simplified Arrivals, which uses facial biometrics – facial recognition technology – to automate the manual document checks required for admission in the country. The technology provides travelers with a touchless process that further secures and streamlines international arrivals.
“Ontario International Airport is proud to partner with the Customs and Border Patrol Agency in providing an opportunity for our community to avail themselves of the Global Entry program,” said Atif Elkadi, Ontario International Airport Authority chief executive officer “As we expand our international travel options, all CBP programs will play a significant role in providing a more expedited and safe inspection process and today marks the start of how our region has proven itself as a key gateway into Southern California.”