SCHUMER: STALEMATE AT PEACE BRIDGE HAS PRESCREENING PROGRAM STALLED AT THE GATE ASKS SECRETARY OF STATE CLINTON TO BREAK THE LOGJAM
In Personal Letter To Secretary of State Clinton, Schumer Asks for State Department To Broker A Deal To Establish Prescreening On Canadian Side Of The Border Prescreening Is Easier to Accomplish Than Shared-Border Management Because Enforcement Will Remain On US Side Schumer: Prescreening Will Be 2-Way Boon For Commerce and Tourism, But We Need a Full Court Press from State Department to Finally Get It Done
Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer called on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to persuade the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) to finalize an agreement with American Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) to establish prescreening of trucks and cargo on the Canadian side of the border. Moving the screening of trucks to the Canadian side of the border would clear the way for a new plaza, that would facilitate increased commerce and international tourism. It would also significantly reduce the size of the new plaza on the American side. As neither government has signed off on the necessary agreements to establish prescreening, Schumer is urging the State Department to prevail upon the Canadian government and CBP to secure those agreements. In a personal letter to Secretary Clinton, Schumer pressed the Department to help move the prescreening project forward as quickly as possible, noting that prescreening ought to be easier to accomplish than shared border management because enforcement operations will remain on the American side.
"Prescreening will increase commerce and tourism in both directions, but real barriers remain to forging a final binational agreement and we will need a full court press from the State Department to get it done," said Schumer. "We must work together, as neighbors, to make sure the Peace Bridge crossing is safe and secure while allowing and encouraging commerce between our two countries. Prescreening would be a giant step in that direction that will make commerce and tourism more efficient and expansive. I urge the State Department to use its sway to get mutually beneficial prescreening done."
At a hearing on the northern border in 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 response, Commissioner Bersin stated at the hearing that they are committed to working with Canadian authorities to segregate highrisk cargo at highvolume crossings like the Peace Bridge, and the Lewiston Queenston crossing, to help expedite the overall processing of commercial traffic. Schumer believes that weeding out highrisk 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. Commissioner Bersin stated his support for a pilot program to conduct prescreening of trucks on the Canadian side.
In subsequent conversations with Schumer, Commissioner Bersin told the Senator that Customs and Border Protection could screen all incoming truck traffic on the Canadian side. Moving the screening process to the Canadian side of the border would mean that any new Peace Bridge plaza on the American side could be much smaller. A more efficient screening process in Canada would 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 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. Under the plan Schumer supports, 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. would 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 number of legal arrangements must be agreed upon by both countries before the prescreening can begin, and since the announcement, little progress has been made. Both border agencies must agree on the type of power that American border agents will have in prescreening, how they will work with their Canadian counterparts, and a clear list of the responsibilities for each agency. Schumer is eager to move forward with prescreening on the Canadian side and today is calling on Secretary Clinton to enlist the State Department in brokering a deal so the project can move forward.
If the plan Schumer backs is adopted, the Peace Bridge Authority (PBA) could potentially move forward with a plan for a smaller, $60 million plaza renovation that would be completed without additional federal funds. The plan takes up a much smaller area of land, covering 8 properties (7 of which are already owned by the PBA) rather than the 88 required by other plans. The proposal could support 12 to 13 primary inspection booths for trucks, an increase from the current number of 7, an additional 6 or 7 car inspection booths bringing the total to 17 or 18, and include 2 xray booths to replace an inadequate mobile unit. The plan also calls for a new Customs commercial building to increase the security of the plaza. Schumer has not endorsed a specific proposal for the plaza, but believes that establishing prescreening on the Canadian side of the border could lend itself to greater flexibility and options for a new Peace Bridge plaza.
The text of Schumer's letter to Secretary Clinton appears below:
September 22, 2011
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520
Dear Secretary Clinton:
As Chairman of the United States Senate Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security, I am responsible for directing U.S. Senate policy on northern border issues. In this capacity, I am continually briefed and updated on the increased collaboration that our Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials are engaging in with the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) to create a safer border and a border that encourages tourism and commerce. I very much appreciate their efforts in this regard.
I write today to discuss the important issue of crossborder commercial traffic between Canada and New York State. As you know, in Western New York, we have two bridges, the Peace Bridge and the LewistonQueenston bridge, which are, respectively, the third and fourth busiest commercial crossings in the nation handling over $30 billion in commerce between the United States and Canada every year.
For years, my office has fielded complaints from business leaders about the length of time it takes for commercial traffic to enter the United States from Canada. One solution has recently emerged that is very promising-that is, prescreening commercial vehicles on these bridges in Canada for primary inspection before they enter the United States. In order to accomplish this, CBSA needs to come to an agreement with CBP to allow CBP to inspect these vehicles on the Canadian side of these bridges. Unfortunately, this agreement has taken far too long to materialize.
I respectfully ask that you take any and all measures necessary to get both sides to complete this agreement as soon as possible. I ask you to pressure CBSA to act with the utmost sense of urgency to complete this agreement, and ask that you make the implementation of preclearance a high priority within the State Department. It is crucial that we do all that we can to ensure that lawful crossborder traffic can move through our ports of entry as quickly as possible so as to not create a chilling effect over vital crossborder tourism and commerce.
Canada has recently expressed its interest to you regarding operating a shared port of entry in Massena, NY. One option might to be exchange U.S. cooperation in operating a shared port of entry in Massena, NY for CBSA's cooperation in allowing prescreening of commercial trucks in Canada. To the extent that minor bureaucratic matters are holding up this agreement-such as requests to submit to Canadian notions of what can and cannot be inspected or asked of someone at a border crossing-I ask that you find areas of interests to the Canadians that we can use to overcome these minor obstacles.
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 our shared border while promoting travel, trade, and commerce.
Charles E. Schumer
Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Refugees
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