SANTA TERESA, N.M. (AP) — Customs agents will step up searches for banned flowers meant for Valentine's Day being smuggled into the U.S. from Mexico over worries about diseases and pests, federal officials announced.
Agriculture specialists will be stationed at El Paso, Texas, ports of entry to inspect flowers and plants being brought over the border, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said this week.
Live plants, seeds and bulbs are not allowed entry into the United States without special permits and documents certifying they are disease-free.
"CBP agriculture specialists are working hard every day preventing potentially harmful plant pests and foreign animal diseases from entering the U.S.," said Hector Mancha, the agency's El Paso director of field operations.
Valentine's Day week is one of their busiest periods of the year.
Some floral bouquets and arrangements purchased in Mexico contain flowers and greenery that are prohibited in the U.S. At El Paso area ports of entry, the most common contraband flowers and plant foliage are chrysanthemums and choisya, a type of shrub. Officials say both are known to harbor harmful pests and disease.
Not declaring or intentionally smuggling prohibited items through ports of entry can lead to civil penalties starting at $300, officials said.
Customs and Border Protection officers at Miami International Airport have deployed beagles to search for prohibited fruits and vegetables officials say could harm South Florida.