Lee, Higgins Applaud State Department's Decision to Propose Opening WNY Passport Office
Congressmen Chris Lee (NY-26) and Brian Higgins (NY-27) held a press conference this morning at Broderick Park on Squaw Island to announce that the State Department has informed them of its intention to open a permanent passport issuance agency in the Buffalo-Niagara Falls region. The lawmakers have been fighting to bring a passport office to Western New York as part of a months-long effort to help ease the implementation of new travel requirements that go into effect on June 1st.
Starting on that date, the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) will require U.S. citizens to present a passport or other valid travel document at all land-based ports of entry, including WNY’s four border crossings, which are among the busiest in the nation.
Congressmen Lee and Higgins first petitioned Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on this issue in late March. They also proposed bipartisan legislation (H.R. 1734) in the House of Representatives that would place a passport issuance agency in the Buffalo-Niagara Falls region and in the vicinity of all major border crossings. (NOTE: A complete timeline of the lawmakers’ activities on this issue is included below.)
In a joint statement, the lawmakers applauded the State Department’s decision, while cautioning that it was not yet official: “The State Department has informed us of its intention to propose opening a passport office in the Buffalo-Niagara Falls region. This is great news for Western New Yorkers, who currently have to travel to New York City or Detroit to acquire a passport in short order, all while living just miles from one of the nation’s busiest border crossings. Of course, this is just the beginning of a process, but we are confident that at the end of the day, Western New Yorkers will have access to this one-stop shop for passports. In the meantime, we will continue to work with federal, state, and local officials to ensure the implementation of the next phase of WHTI goes as smoothly as possible for local residents and businesses.”
Every day, Western New Yorkers head into and out of Canada at one of four locations – the Rainbow, Whirlpool, Peace, and Lewiston-Queenston bridges. Countless good-paying jobs are tied to cross-border commerce, with nearly 500,000 New York jobs supported by Canada-U.S. trade. The two nations trade $535 billion in merchandise annually.
Lee & Higgins Fight to Prepare WNY for WHTI Transition
March 26, 2009: Congressmen Lee and Higgins petition Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to open a provisional issuance agency in the region to handle increased demand due to new travel requirements.
March 27, 2009: Congressmen Lee and Higgins introduce legislation to make the WHTI transition easier and less expensive for Western New Yorkers.
• H.R. 1733, the Passport Fee Relief Act of 2009, would provide a refundable tax credit to cover the cost of acquiring a passport, enhanced driver license, or other compliant document. This would help ease the burden on cash-strapped families.
• H.R. 1734 would establish a passport office in Western New York so area residents can obtain these documents in a matter of hours rather than the weeks-long wait that accompanies applications filed by mail. The closest passport agency is located in downtown Manhattan, a seven-hour drive from the Peace Bridge.
April 15, 2009: Congressmen Lee and Higgins ask the State Department to shed light on the process by which passport issuance agency sites are selected. In their letter, the lawmakers call For “complete transparency” In decision-making process to ensure public understands how “and more importantly, when” issuance agency will be opened.
WNY Editorial Boards Support Opening a Passport Office