Schumer Questions Top DHS Officials On Pre-screening Passenger Trains In Montreal, Speeding Up Entry Via The Peace Bridge, Other Border Security Priorities

Backwards Border Policies Are Letting Drugs And Contraband In, While Slowing Down International Commerce – Schumer Advances Border Agenda To Reverse The Trend

Schumer: Smart Security Along The NY-Canada Border Needs To Be A Top Priority For The Department Of Homeland Security


Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer chaired a hearing of the Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees, and Border Security, where he pressed top officials from the Department of Homeland Security for progress on and support for a number of Canadian border security initiatives. Schumer organized this morning’s hearing, which featured the testimony of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton, as well as Alan Bersin, Commissioner of Customs and Border Patrol. In recent months, Senator Schumer has pushed for a complete northern border security agenda, designed to reverse current policies which allow drugs and illegal materials to be smuggled across the border. Schumer also seeks to revamp border policies that slow international commerce with Canada that is essential to Upstate businesses. At the hearing, Schumer received updates on many of his border initiatives, and secured DHS support for future programs designed to secure the border and facilitate healthier cross-border commerce.


“I called this hearing today to advance an agenda that will make the U.S.-Canada border more secure, while facilitating easier trade and commerce between Canadian businesses and those across Upstate New York,” said Schumer. “New York shares over 400 miles of the border with Canada – securing that is essential to our national security. That’s why I’m pushing to bring military grade radar to help detect low-flying planes that might be smuggling drugs, and why I’m pushing to bring in new funding for our state and local governments that are helping to secure the border, and why I want to create a comprehensive strategy to combat new, low-flying aircraft that are quickly becoming a preferred tool of drug pushers. The Canadian border is also essential to our economy, and I’m pleased that Homeland Security officials agree we need to streamline our screening procedures so that we don’t choke off international business. We’re making progress on creating a smart border security strategy, but I’m not going to rest until the job is done.”


According to statistics from media reports and the Department of Homeland Security, drug smuggling from Canada into the United States is on the rise. Last year, there were more than 24,000 arrests across Upstate New York related to the possession of illicit drugs, an average per-county increase of 84% from 2001. Schumer believes that these figures demand a series of border security solutions designed to identify, investigate, and interdict drug traffickers who travel by land, air, and sea. At the same time, Schumer believes more needs to be done to streamline entry procedures for tourists and Canadian businesspersons seeking to travel to New York. Commerce with Canada accounted for $38 billion of economic activity in New York State during 2010, according to the Canadian government. New York received 2.6 million visits from Canadians, helping to pump billions into local economies throughout the state.


At the hearing, Schumer pressed the DHS officials for their agency’s current plans to make the following border projects a reality:


CBP agreed to work on speeding up commercial traffic from Canada into the United States via the Peace, and Lewiston Queenston bridges - During the hearing, Schumer pointed out 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 business leaders in Western New York who have experienced serious delays in receiving their products coming from Canada, pressed DHS to do more to alleviate these delays. In response, Commissioner Bersin said that they are committed to working with Canadian authorities to segregate high-risk cargo at high-volume crossings like the Peace Bridge, and the Lewiston Queenston crossing, to help expedite the overall processing of commercial traffic. Schumer believes that weeding out high-risk cargo for closer inspection will help improve the flow of commerce across these essential crossings, providing a boost to local businesses in Upstate New York.


CBP committed to collaborating with Amtrak to screen passenger trains in Montreal rather than stopping again at the border, which would cut down on travel delays – Schumer followed up on his April 14, 2011 letter, in which he requested that DHS help establish a prescreening process in Canada so that incoming passenger trains are not forced to stop at the border, creating burdensome delays. Businesses along the route from the North Country down through Albany and into New York City have noted that the additional screening checkpoint creates avoidable delays, and creates a disincentive for Canadian business travelers to visit destinations throughout New York. Schumer is seeking to create a screening facility in the Montreal train station, which would replace the stop-and-screen procedure at the border. Mr. Bersin said today that, in response to Schumer’s letter, they have begun working with Amtrak to create a faster and more efficient way to screen passengers coming from Canada in order to cut down on delays. They expect to have a plan created by the end of the year.


Officials confirmed that DHS will begin tapping into Canadian radar feeds, part of an effort to bring military-grade radar to the Canadian border to detect low flying planes that could be used to smuggle drugs or illegal persons – In February, Schumer joined colleagues from other states along the Northern Border in a letter to Secretary Napolitano, asking that DHS begin utilizing military-grade radar technology along the border in order to detect low-flying planes that are commonly used to smuggle drugs. Schumer cited a report detailing the 24,000 drug-related arrests of adults in 2010 as well as an increase in the number of drugs being seized at border checkpoints as clear evidence that more must be done to combat this alarming problem. Last month, Napolitano said she intended to improve our ability to catch low-flying aircraft by integrating military radar feeds used by Canada with our Air and Marine Operations Command Center. At today’s hearing, Commissioner Bersin stated that the radar feed should be operational by November 2011, greatly enhancing our ability to detect and stop low-flying planes that might be loaded down with drugs.


ICE said that the creation a Border Enforcement Security Task Force (BEST) team in Massena, NY is expected by October of this year – Immigrations and Customs Enforcement operates a series of Border Enforcement Security Task Forces (BEST). The teams consist of personnel from ICE, CBP, tribal police, local, state, and Canadian law enforcement working in concert to improve overall border security. Given the success of the BEST team in the Buffalo/Niagara region, Schumer pushed for and successfully secured DHS’ commitment to establish a BEST team to be based in Massena, NY. Schumer asked ICE Director Morton today to establish the team as quickly as possible, given the growing drug abuse problem in Upstate New York. In response to Schumer’s request, the Director stated that ICE plans to have implemented the team by October of the current year. Schumer pledged his continued support to the mission, and offered any necessary assistance to make sure the team is in place as quickly as possible.


The officials support Schumer’s efforts to secure funding from the Operation Stonegarden program, which would be used to augment state and local governments’ border security efforts throughout NY – Operation Stonegarden is a federal border security program that provides 3-year grants to tribal nations, state, and local governments in order to augment Border Patrol personnel and resources for patrolling the Northern Border. The Government Accountability Office reports that the program benefitted the four sectors of the Southern Border that received funds, but the current Administration’s proposed 2012 budget does call for any of the Stonegarden funds to be sent to the Northern Border. The House appropriations bill for FY2012 includes $55 million for Operation Stonegarden. During today’s hearing, Schumer asked the DHS officials to commit to using the extra funds on the Northern border, provided they are contained in the final appropriations bill that becomes law. CBP Commissioner Bersin said today that Operation Stonegarden has been beneficial to state and local partners who are working to secure the Southern Border, and pledged to use the funds along the Northern Border if they are appropriated for that use. Schumer today said that he will push for this funding throughout the appropriations process, and strive to implement the successful program along the Northern Border, in addition to the Southern.


DHS confirms that bringing a border security headquarters facility to the Eastern part of the Northern border would help coordinate security programs – Senator Schumer strongly supported the Northern Border Counternarcotics Strategy Act of 2010, which requires the Office of National Drug Control Policy to develop a comprehensive, integrated counternarcotics strategy for all agencies to follow along the Northern Border. According to the ONDCP, the full strategy will be released by July 4th of this year. One of the key pieces of the strategy will be the creation of an Operational Integration Center to be based in Detroit. The site will be a centralized location to help gather, analyze, and disseminate operational and strategic data from all levels of government around the Great Lakes Region. Today, Schumer asked Commissioner Bersins if the department would benefit from opening a second center to be based on the eastern part of the border. Bersin noted that it would indeed help the agencies better coordinate in the fight to keep illegal drugs from crossing the border. Given DHS’ support, Schumer supports the creation of another site to be tasked with coordinating the anti-drug efforts on the eastern side of the border, including New York’s North Country.


“At times, we’ve employed a backwards border strategy that let’s drugs in but keeps business out,” continued Schumer. “It’s absolutely critical that we reverse this trend and implement smart policies that will keep drugs out of our communities while encouraging new business and economic opportunities across the state.”