Congressman Questions Validity of Details in “Notice of Proposed Rulemaking”
BUFFALO, NY – Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-27) criticized the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for using fear rather than fact to justify a passport mandate for US/Canada border communities.
Upon review of the DHS Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) “Notice of Proposed Rulemaking,” Higgins questions whether an underestimated economic impact is intended to mislead the public. Furthermore Higgins casts doubt on the plan’s ability to provide better security than smarter, cheaper alternatives.
“From their misguided justification for a northern border passport mandate to their inability to process the very passports they are requiring, this Administration has demonstrated gross incompetence on the passport issue,” said Congressman Higgins.
In written comments submitted to DHS on the “Notice of Proposed Rulemaking” for the WHTI (see attached), Congressman Higgins calls the passport requirement for land travel across the US/Canadian border “part of an unfortunate dynamic in which the American public is presented with unnecessary and onerous bureaucratic requirements which provide little or no actual enhancement in safety and security the only discernable purpose of which is to provide the impression that the administration is working aggressively to prevent terrorism.”
“In today’s technological world as fast as we produce identifying documents, criminals are creating new ways to replicate and falsify those documents,” said Higgins. “Investment in human capital by way of trained border agents has over the last several years made this nation safer and is the best solution as we move forward.”
The number of border agents along the northern border has almost tripled from 340 agents in 2001 to 980 agents today. Customs and Border Protection has also more than doubled the number of inspectors from 1,615 to 3,391.
In his comments Higgins also noted that the DHS analysis of the losses to the US economy is vastly underestimated at only $200 million annually, based on their notion that cross-border traffic will decrease by merely 3.7 percent for persons who cross the border often (more than once a year) and by 10.7-10.9 percent for less frequent travelers.
At the same time, DHS eliminated the passport requirement for cruises citing that shorter, less planned trips would “be most notably affected because the passport represents a greater percentage of the overall trip cost.”
“If the principle that shorter, less expensive trips will be more negatively impacted by the passport rule is true, how can it be that ocean cruises lasting up to five days would be reduced by 24.4 percent while casual, infrequent visits to Buffalo by Torontonians would decrease by only 10.7-10.9 percent.,” questioned Higgins.
In 2006, total two-way trade in goods between the U.S. and Canada equaled US$534.billion dollars,
up from $470.8 billion in 2005 and $418.8 billion in 2004. Canadian spending in the United States rose 7.4% to about $2.9 billion. Average spending per trip edged up from $807 to $831.
In closing Higgins recognized the serious need to protect lives and property from threat of terrorist attacks but called the imposition of a passport requirement unacceptable while equally effective alternatives are available which would not negatively impact fragile local economies.
June 23, 2007
Hon. Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State
Hon. Michael Chertoff, Secretary of Homeland Security
Care of: US Customs and Border Protection
Office of International Trade, Office of Regulations and Rulings, Border Security Regulations Branch
1300 Pennsylvania Ave, NW (Mint Annex)
Washington, DC 20229
Re: Public Comment on Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) USCBP-2007-0061
Dear Secretary Rice and Secretary Chertoff:
I fully recognize the need to protect lives and property from the threat of terrorist attacks. However, the plans for the passport requirement for travel across the US-Canadian border are part of an unfortunate dynamic in which the American public is presented with unnecessary and onerous bureaucratic requirements which provide little or no actual enhancement in safety and security the only discernable purpose of which is to provide the impression that the administration is working aggressively to prevent terrorism.
The passport requirement for travel across the US-Canadian border, as spelled out in the recent Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, would fail to significantly enhance our domestic security and would cause unnecessary economic hardship to many border communities, including my own constituency in the Buffalo, NY area.
In summary, my principal concerns regarding the NPRM for WHTI are these:
1) You failed to consider less onerous options which would still meet your obligations under Section 7209 of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 and Section 546 of the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act of 2007, and which would comply with the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. Allowing persons to pass with modern drivers’ licenses and birth certificates would provide substantially the same level of security as the passport requirement.
2) You propose to allow cruise ship patrons to continue to present separate proof of identity and proof of citizenship (drivers’ license with birth certificate), because of the harm the more onerous passport requirement would have on the (principally foreign-flagged) cruise ship industry (p. 37, NPRM). The binational tourism industry along the US-Canadian border has a far larger impact on the US economy and deserves no less protection and consideration.
3) You rightly propose that members of Native American nations and bands on either side of the border will be able to pass with the use of their tribally-issued identification card (p.47, NPRM). You are right to propose to continue to allow this practice, however, the same consideration should be given to modern drivers’ licenses and birth certificates issued by state and provincial governments.
4) The department of State's response to the challenge of increased passport applications resulting from the recently-implemented passport requirement for air travel to Canada and the Carribean has been woefully inadequate and has resulted in difficulty and economic hardship for US travellers to international destinations around the globe. I therefore lack confidence in the Department of State's ability to process in a timely manner the much larger volume of new passport applications which will be generated as a result of the proposed new passport requirement for land-based border crossings. Your cost-benefit analysis fails to account for the negative economic impact not only on border communities but on the entire nation which will result from inevitable and substantial delays in passport issuance.
5) Your analysis of the losses to the US economy as a result of reduced visits by Canadians understates the negative economic impact of the passport requirement. The losses in the Buffalo area alone would exceed the $200 million losses projected nationally by your analysis (p. 70, NPRM). You base the $200 million loss figure on the notion that cross-border traffic will decrease by merely 3.7 percent for persons who cross the border often (more than once per year), and by 10.7 -10.9 percent for less frequent travelers (p. 64 NPRM). The amount of lost traffic will be substantially more than this. Your separate analysis of the cruise industry, which resulted in waiving the passport requirement for that industry, was right to note that shorter, less planned trips would “be most notably affected because the passport represents a greater percentage of the overall trip cost” (p. 69 NPRM). If the principle that shorter, less expensive trips will be more negatively impacted by the passport rule is true, how can it be that ocean cruises lasting up to five days would be reduced 24.4 percent (p. 65, NPRM) while casual, infrequent visits to Buffalo by Torontonians would decrease only 10.7-10.9 percent (p. 64, NPRM).
I cannot understate the extent to which the economy of Western New York is dependant upon its relationship with our Canadian neighbors. The following data compiled by the Regional Institute at the University at Buffalo in their policy brief entitled “Defining the Region’s Edge” suggests the extent to which a reduction in Canadian visits to the US would cripple the already-struggling local economy:
• 40% of the students who attend D’Youville College are Canadians.
• Hospital visits by Canadians have a local economic impact of $42 million.
• Approximately 15,000 visitors to a typical Buffalo Bills home game are Canadians.
• 12% of Buffalo Sabres season ticket holders are Canadians.
• 35% of the skiers at Holiday Valley Resort are Canadians.
• Approximately 1/3 of patrons at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport are Canadians.
Again, I fully recognize the need to protect lives and property from the threat of terrorist attacks, but I find unacceptable the imposition of a passport requirement on the Northern border while equally effective alternatives are available which would not negatively impact fragile local economies.
Member of Congress