You arrive at the store, money in hand and ready to spend, and are confronted by an hours-long line just to get to the door. Once you reach the entrance, a security guard asks why you want to come in, where you're coming from and could she check your pockets before letting you through.

Sometimes they make you feel welcome. Sometimes you wonder why you bother. Oh, and there's a line to get out, too.

That's what it feels like for the hundreds of thousands of visitors to the United States crossing through the ports of entry every day.

As reported in Sunday's Arizona Daily Star, congestion at the Douglas port has gotten so bad that local officials and business leaders from the U.S. and Mexico are working on a private-public partnership to fund construction of a new commercial port of entry, estimated at $15 million to $30 million.

While we applaud the initiative, we agree with Rep. Raúl Grijalva that the federal government should be primarily responsible for the border and address "the very real need of understaffing among customs agents that are essential to security, the flow of goods and services, trade and economic development."

Lawmakers should support legislation such as the Congressional Border Caucus' proposal to fund entry ports and President Obama's fiscal 2014 budget request for more Customs and Border Protection funding.

So far, border security measures linked to immigration reform have been shaped by political concerns that only provide expensive cover for Republicans looking to support legislation.

Ports of entry play an integral role in national security, yet they are ignored in the push for spending increases on Border Patrol staffing and other law enforcement efforts away from official crossing points.

The Senate's immigration bill would spend $23 billion over 10 years to double the number of Border Patrol agents and extend fencing along the border. Putting aside the environmental impact, it makes little economic sense. More than 20,000 agents already are doing their job to make the border more secure.

With apprehensions continuing to decline, it would be a case of diminishing returns to invest so heavily on additional agents.

In contrast, a report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office says $6 billion is needed to modernize the country's ports of entry and 6,000 Customs and Border Protection agents should be added to staff them properly. About 350 million people and $2.3 trillion in trade crossed last year through ports of entry, and trade groups say delays at border crossings cost the economy $8 billion a year.

Locally, Mexican visitors to Arizona spent $2.69 billion in the state during 2007-08, generating 23,400 direct jobs. During the same time period, they spent $976 million in Pima County, generating more than 9,400 direct jobs and $190 million in income, according to a report by the University of Arizona's Eller College of Management.

Customs and Border Protection officials are in an unenviable position. Their mission includes enforcing immigration laws, stopping smugglers and protecting the country against terrorism - all while facilitating and expediting trade.

Underfunded ports of entry not only hurt the United States economically, it makes it harder for existing customs agents to exercise their enforcement duties and keep us safe.

As immigration reform starts and stalls its way through Congress, legislators should focus on the importance of ports of entry. They should stop equating border security only with high-speed chases in the desert and more with a slow crawl through a congested border crossing.

Arizona Daily Star