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Valentine’s Day a busy time for US border protection officers

PHOENIX — Valentine’s Day is around the corner and that means it’s a busy time of year for U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers.

CBP officers will be checking roughly 800 million flowers that will enter the country to be sold to consumers the holiday, which falls on Saturday this year.

Ports such as Miami and Los Angeles will see more bulk commercial shipments of cut flowers, but officers in Arizona will also be busy checking individuals entering the U.S. with flowers from Mexico.

“We do see a lot in passenger baggage at both the airports and land border ports,” said Tracy Filippi, supervisory agricultural program manager for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Tucson Field Office.

Officers will be looking for specific types of prohibited plants coming into the U.S., and while roses are permitted, Filippi said other types of plants commonly included in bouquets might not be.

“Often florists will include other greenery or other flowers in a bouquet to kind of fill it out, and one of the common choices is a plant called Choisya,” she said. “Choisya is actually in the citrus family of plants, and therefore it’s subject to some of the same insects and diseases that citrus plants would have.”

Citrus plants coming into the U.S. are of great concern to the CBP because of an insect called Asian citrus psyllid, which can carry a disease known as citrus-greening disease.

“It basically ruins the crop: It ruins the tree and the tree dies,” Filippi said.

There is no cure for citrus-greening disease, according to Filippi, which is why the agency is very strict about checking agricultural items that come into the U.S.

And with citrus being a vital to Arizona’s economy, Filippi said the disease could be detrimental.

“(Having) the citrus-greening disease in our state and in our citrus groves, it would devastate the crop and (in) all likelihood destroy the citrus industry here in Arizona,” she said.

To be sure citrus-greening disease does not cross the border into Arizona, Filippi said the CBP will have extra officers staffed this week to look for plants and citrus at border entries and airports.

She added all agricultural material must be declared by travelers, and failing to do so could result in fines.