Washington, DC—Today Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-27) released the following statement which was included in the record of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s hearing on the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative.
“I have the honor of representing New York’s Erie and Chautauqua counties, which include Buffalo, New York and the Peace Bridge crossing into Canada. The people of Western New York have had close relationships with our Canadian neighbors for hundreds of years. Our communities are woven together and our economies are interdependent. Seventy-eight years ago this cooperative spirit resulted in the construction of the Peace Bridge between Buffalo, New York and Fort Erie, Ontario. Our mutual investment in the Peace Bridge has paid dividends many times over, producing commercial and economic development that would never have been possible if citizens of each country did not have easy access to the other side of the border. In fact, the Peace Bridge, and the easy flow of traffic to Canada, are largely responsible for saving jobs as demonstrated recently by Ford which spared the Buffalo Stamping Plant in its latest round of closings because of its proximity and collaboration with Ford’s Assembly Plant in Oakville, Ontario.
“The Peace Bridge is the second busiest passenger vehicle crossing and the third busiest commercial crossing between the United States and Canada. The commerce facilitated by this bridge is absolutely critical to the vulnerable Western New York economy.
“The easy flow of people over the border is equally as important as commerce. Many of the students in my district go to universities along the Canadian shoreline, and Canadian students comprise a major component of our local colleges. Canadians support Buffalo’s arts and culture – they visit our zoo, shop our stores, and go to our local theaters; they are a large percentage of the fans in the seats at Bills, Sabres, and Bisons games. In Western New York, crossing the international border is no different that crossing the 14th Street Bridge here in Washington, DC to get to Virginia – we do it to go to church, to buy groceries, and to visit our families and neighbors.
“The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative would decimate the economic viability and cultural and social fabric of my district. While I believe strongly that our first responsibility is protecting national security, I fail to see how requiring the use of one form of a passport or PASS card is more secure than the documents currently required for cross-border travel. I also do not understand why citizens in border communities should bear the economic burden of this policy; if this is truly a matter of “national security” then the entire cost for this program should be borne by the U.S. Treasury, not solely by border communities like ours.
“The Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State argue that the WHTI is mandated in the Intelligence Reform bill, passed two Decembers ago. But the language in the bill directs DHS and State to ‘develop and implement a plan as expeditiously as possible to require a passport or other document, or combination of documents, deemed by the Secretary of Homeland Security to be sufficient to denote identity and citizenship, for all travel into the United States.’ Additionally, DHS should conduct a cost-benefit analysis on a plan as significant as this in order to ensure that our community does not suffer from the strangling of legitimate trade and travel with Canada.
“The most efficient and effective flow of traffic between the U.S. and Canada is of paramount importance for the national security, economic development and life quality of my district. The proposed passport requirement, as well as the PASS cards, will unnecessarily create delays that will stifle our local economy and place an undue burden on my constituents.
“Given the hundreds of years of excellent cross border relations between the United States and Canada and the strong interdependence for commerce, culture, entertainment, universities and quality of life, I continue to believe that the WHTI should be waived until the establishment and enactment of a new form of identification that will prioritize faster and less expensive passage instead of the slower and cost-prohibitive proposal on the table today.”