FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 22, 2012
SCHUMER TO CONVENE SUMMIT TO IRON OUT PRESCREENING PLAN FOR ALL U.S.-BOUND COMMERCIAL TRUCK TRAFFIC ON THE CANADIAN SIDE OF THE PEACE BRIDGE; CALLS ON TOP BORDER OFFICIALS TO JOIN HIM AT MEETING WITH LOCAL OFFICIALS
Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer urged the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to convene a meeting with Peace Bridge stakeholders, in light of lack of coordination between the federal agencies with regard to facilitating preclearance on the Peace Bridge. Recently, DHS Secretary Napolitano indicated that she is very seriously considering the Peace Bridge to be a site of one of two preclearance pilot programs being held as part of the “Beyond the Border” agreement with Canada. However, Schumer, who has led the fight for developing truck traffic preclearance on the Canadian side of the border, emphasized that such a lack of coordination and agreement behind this plan could be detrimental to the Peace Bridge’s prospective selection as one of the two preclearance sites. Schumer is pushing DHS, CBP, and ICE to meet with him in Buffalo as soon as possible, so that he can address any stakeholders’ concerns and articulate the massive benefits that preclearance would have for Buffalo.
In December 2011, President Obama and Prime Minister Harper first announced plans for a “Beyond the Border” working group to develop a shared vision strategy. This U.S.-Canadian border agreement marked a giant step forward towards prescreening commercial truck traffic on the Canadian side of the Peace Bridge. The summit Senator Schumer will host aims to kick-start the first-ever prescreening in Canada pilot program at two locations, including the Peace Bridge. Following the completion of the pilot program, DHS will expand prescreening to other locations. Secretary Janet Napolitano has indicated that she supports pre-clearance of commercial traffic at the Peace Bridge, and now Schumer is pushing to get everyone on board with this plan. Schumer is pushing to host a meeting in Buffalo with Acting Commissioner of CBP David Aguilar, Acting Deputy Commissioner of CBP, Tom Winkowski, and Director of ICE in Buffalo John Morton, with stakeholders, so that the group can develop a plan and eliminate points of resistance to establish pre-clearance for traffic on the Canadian side of the Peace Bridge.
At a hearing on the northern border last May chaired by Schumer, the senator pointed out to Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Alan Bersin that the Peace Bridge is the third busiest commercial crossing in the nation, handling over $30 billion in commerce between the United States and Canada each year. The Lewiston Queenston crossing comes in just behind the Peace Bridge, as the fourth busiest crossing. Schumer, in response to concerns from community and business leaders in western New York who have experienced serious delays in both crossing the border and receiving their products coming from Canada, pressed the Department of Homeland Security to do more to alleviate these delays.
In subsequent conversations with Schumer, Commissioner Bersin responded to Schumer’s advocacy for better cross border integration by informing the senator that Customs and Border Protection could prescreen all incoming truck traffic on the Canadian side. Moving the prescreening process to the Canadian side of the border will mean that any new Peace Bridge plaza on the American side could be much smaller than past proposals. A more efficient prescreening process in Canada will result in fewer delays for truckers carrying goods into the United States, for tourists, and for day visitors seeking to take in Sabres or Bills games, or to shop or dine at New York restaurants. It would greatly improve commerce between businesses on both sides of the border. Currently, 100% of all trucks must go through a congested screening process on the American side of the border. After prescreening gets underway, 90% would be fully cleared on the Canadian side, with approximately 10% requiring additional screening in the United States. Suspicious vehicles entering the U.S. will be flagged as they came onto American soil, and made to undergo additional screening at the U.S. Port of Entry before entry could be permitted.
A copy of Schumer’s letter appears below:
March 22, 2012
Dear Secretary Napolitano, Acting Commissioner Aguilar, Acting Deputy Commissioner Winkowski, and Director Morton:
As Chairman of the Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security, I am responsible for directing the Senate’s oversight of the Department of Homeland Security’s efforts to secure our borders and ports of entry while, at the same time, promoting trade, travel, and traffic that is essential to America’s economy.
It is in this regard that I write today to discuss the important issue of expediting legitimate commercial and tourism traffic between the Canada and New York State via the Peace Bridge. On numerous occasions, Secretary Napolitano has indicated that she supports preclearance of commercial traffic crossing the Peace Bridge, and has recently indicated that she is very seriously considering the Peace Bridge to be a site of one of two preclearance pilot programs being held as part of the “Beyond the Border” agreement with Canada.
It has come to my attention, however, that there is resistance within personnel from both U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement to facilitating the commencement of preclearance on the Peace Bridge. My concern is that this resistance may adversely impact the Peace Bridge being chosen as one of the two preclearance sites.
Consequently, I respectfully ask that we convene a meeting in Buffalo as soon as possible where stakeholders can discuss the benefits of preclearance with Acting Commissioner Aguilar, Acting Deputy Commissioner Winkowski, and ICE Special Agent in Charge of Buffalo, James Spero. At this meeting, I am happy to address any and all remaining concerns that staff may have with proceeding with preclearance along the Peace Bridge so that this long overdue program can finally get up and running for the people of Western New York.
I thank you for your attention to this important matter, and look forward to working with you to assist you in your mission of protecting America while promoting travel, trade, and commerce.
Charles E. Schumer
Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security