From the days the Santa Fe Railroad opened Southern California to the Midwest and East Coast by connecting Chicago with Los Angeles, through the silver screen glamour years of Hollywood’s golden era, and up through our latest role as a global center for entertainment, culture and restaurants, Los Angeles has a long and proud history as a worldwide tourist destination and is the preferred gateway for international travelers into the United States.

Each day dozens of overseas flights arrive at the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). These flights collectively carry thousands of passengers, each with their own itinerary. Whether they are traveling to Los Angeles on business or pleasure, or just stopping over before their next flight to one of the other great cities across our country, they all experience one thing in common — staggering delays at U.S. Immigration and Customs.

What do you get when the world’s largest origin and destination airport has only 20 out of 60 Immigration and Customs booths staffed to process more than 2,500 passengers during peak hours? After sitting on a plane for 15 hours, you are delayed another 30 to 60 minutes on the plane and then stand in line for up to three hours before you are cleared by customs officials. In some cases, you miss your next flight.  For seasoned travelers, this is a dreaded experience. For new travelers, it is their first impression of the United States.

Rolling out the red carpet for our international travelers is more than a hospitality issue — it has regional and national consequences. To bring attention to this issue, the L.A. Area Chamber and 11 other business organizations, penned a letter to Commissioner Alan Bersin, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and copied our members of Congress to urge that action be taken immediately to alleviate this crisis. Last week, 10 members of Congress joined this effort by sending their own letter to Commissioner Bersin.

In times of economic crisis, we must all do everything possible to welcome those who are looking to invest — either in starting, expanding or partnering in business, or by bringing tourism dollars to our shore.

LAX is spending $2.3 billion to build a new, state of the art, international terminal that will add 20 more Immigration and Customs booths, but the U.S. Customs and Border Protection is woefully understaffing the booths we have today. Rebuilding our nation’s economy requires partnerships across all levels of government. LAX is doing its part — now we need help from Washington, D.C.