Higgins, Lee Seek Final Word from Homeland Security on Status of Shared Border Management
Today, Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-27) and Congressman Chris Lee (NY-26) sent a letter to Secretary Napolitano asking for a clear message from DHS on shared border management.
“As we near completion of a design for the bridge and move toward construction, confusion about whether shared border management is back on the table threatens to delay or derail the project," wrote Higgins and Lee. “We can not responsibly allow conflicting and inconsistent statements about a policy that we know to be dead to give false hope to those who support shared border management or to delay this absolutely crucial project.”
“I understand new Department officials expressing an openness to consider any proposal,” said Higgins. “But in this case, the mere and misleading suggestion that shared border management could possibly be revived has the unintended consequence of threatening progress toward the construction of a new bridge.”
“A new Peace Bridge gives us a great opportunity to create good-paying jobs in Western New York and advance the overall economic development of the region. I appreciate Congressman Higgins’ continued leadership on this issue and I share his desire to expedite this project. We need to stop the excuses and move forward for the long-term vitality of this region," said Congressman Lee.
In 2007 Department of Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff declared Shared Border Management dead after it was determined that the two countries have conflicting laws and procedures on inspection and a compromise was unreachable.
Following the bi-national agreement that Shared Border Management would not work, the US Government Accounting Office (GAO) conducted a performance audit (Jan - September 2008) to ensure appropriate efforts were made.
GAO reported that: Officials from both countries agreed that negotiations were conducted in good faith…However, certain issues pertaining to each country’s sovereignty and the law enforcement authorities of U.S. CBP officers operating on Canadian soil could not be resolved. These issues included concerns over arrest authority; the right of individuals to withdraw an application to enter the United States while at the land preclearance site in Canada; mutually agreeable fingerprinting processes; how information collected by U.S. officials at the land preclearance site would be shared; and concerns that future interpretations of the Canadian Charter could adversely impact U.S. authorities at the preclearance site.
“Two years of negotiations and a nine month review concluded that Shared Border Management was not doable,” Higgins said. “Returning to a plan proven to be unattainable only creates more delays, false hope and continued uncertainty for the residents and businesses in the Peace Bridge neighborhood.”
The full text of the letter is below:
March 26, 2009
The Honorable Janet Napolitano
Secretary, Department of Homeland Security
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Mail Stop 0150
Washington, DC 20528
We have read with interest your comments as they have been reported in our hometown newspaper, the Buffalo News, concerning the viability of instituting a shared border management policy at our northern border.
Let us explain why this issue is of such concern to us and our community. Congressman Higgins’ congressional district includes the Peace Bridge, which connects Buffalo and Western New York to Ontario, Canada. It is the busiest passenger vehicle crossing, and the third busiest commercial crossing, between Canada and the United States. The humbled economy of Western New York depends on access to the thriving market of Southern Ontario, a booming area that is expected to grow another 3.7 million people to 11.5 million by 2031. It is paramount for national commerce as well as our local economy that we ensure dependable access to this market.
To combat the current delays that exist at the Peace Bridge a binational agreement was reached to construct a second span of the bridge that will increase capacity and reduce delays. Initially the project was to utilize shared border management and place American security facilities in Ft. Erie, Ontario. As you are aware, negotiations were unsuccessful and shared border management was declared dead in April 2007. A U.S. Government Accountability Office report in September 2008 confirmed that shared border management could not move forward because to do so would require either Canada to reduce the civil liberties enshrined in its Charter of Rights and Freedoms or the United States to accept a lower level of security at the Buffalo crossing than at any other port of entry to our country. Regrettable though these circumstances are, either option makes shared border management impossible.
Yet, as we near completion of a design for the bridge and plaza and move toward construction, confusion about whether shared border management is back on the table threatens to delay or derail the project. Our community, not to mention Canadian officials, will understandably be reluctant to move forward with the final phases of this project if they believe the Department of Homeland Security proposes to so dramatically alter it. We can not responsibly allow conflicting and inconsistent statements about a policy that we know to be dead to give false hope to those who support shared border management or to delay this absolutely crucial project. To that end we respectfully request that the Department issue a clear public message on the current disposition and prospect for shared border management, consistent with the reality of the structural impediments as outlined in the GAO report.
Thank you for your attention to this matter. We know that like us, you are committed to building a new Peace Bridge that will sustain the Western New York and American economies for decades to come. We look forward to hearing from you soon.
Brian Higgins Christopher J. Lee
Member of Congress Member of Congress