Demands Consideration of WHTI Effect on WNY Communities
Washington, DC—Today, Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-27) submitted testimony to the House Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Claims’ hearing on “Western Hemisphere Passport Requirements.” Higgins’ testimony as submitted is below.
“Members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to be here today on behalf of my constituents in New York’s 27th congressional district. 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 its easy flow of traffic to Canada is 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.
“In short, 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. It should be noted that the recent apprehension of a terror cell in Canada hinges on the fact a number of the suspects had previously been stopped and apprehended for gun-running on the northern border – under current requirements, which do not require passports, these men were successfully stopped and apprehended.
“Additionally, the Department of Homeland Security recently cut in half the funding due Buffalo under the Urban Area Security Initiative. That loss in federal funding will have to be absorbed by the city and county through local taxes. So citizens of Western New York will pay three times for the national security of the entire nation: they will pay their taxes for which New Yorkers receive less from the federal government than they put in, they will pay raised local taxes to supplant the loss in federal funds for this high threat city, and they will pay a border tax for simply living along our peaceful border with Canada. Why should citizens in border communities 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.”