Higgins encouraged by 'Beyond the Border' progress reportby jmaloni
Congressman calls for strategy to include additional personnel at northern border
Congressman Brian Higgins, D-NY-26, a member of the House committees on homeland security and foreign affairs, said he is encouraged by progress made through the historic "Beyond the Border" agreement between the U.S. and Canada, and is pushing for a continued commitment to improving the flow of goods and people across the border as a means to foster economic growth.
Earlier this week Higgins, announced completion of phase one of a pre-inspection pilot project along the northern border between Washington State and Canada, which was deemed successful. Within the next month, phase two will begin at the Peace Bridge crossing in Buffalo.
The "Beyond the Border" agreement called for, among other things, better coordination at land border crossings between the two countries. In a "Beyond the Border" implementation report released by the White House, progress on the binational agenda is detailed, including the following highlights:
•A 50 percent increase in membership in the NEXUS-trusted traveler program;
•Successful implementation of the truck cargo pre-inspection pilot at Pacific Highway in Surrey, British Columbia (adjacent to Blaine, Wash.), in which U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers pre-inspected approximately 3,500 US-bound commercial trucks;
•Preparations underway for phase two of the pilot project, with an anticipated deployment this month in Fort Erie, Ontario (adjacent to Buffalo), to test the feasibility of reducing wait times and border congestion by conducting U.S. primary inspection of U.S.-bound commercial trucks in Canada;
•To match recent U.S. investments, Canada expanded NEXUS lanes and booths at the Peace Bridge (Fort Erie); Pacific Highway (Surrey); the Queenston-Lewiston Bridge (Queenston, Ontario); Lacolle, Quebec; and Windsor, Ontario, border crossings in 2013, additional to the three new NEXUS lanes in 2012, providing more efficient border clearance for low-risk travelers at these ports of entry.
•Made progress with respect to investments for two of four U.S. initial priority crossings. At the Peace Bridge in Buffalo, the bridge operator has announced an investment to widen the approach to the bridge, and is working with U.S. CBP to renovate and expand its commercial warehouse facilities; the state of New York has announced a complementary investment for improved highway connection.
Higgins is also calling for an increase in Customs and Border Protection personnel to support the infrastructure investments and streamline the flow of traffic, effectively unleashing the full potential of the shared economies. Higgins met with representatives from CBP, wrote a letter with Rep. Chris Collins to the acting commissioner calling for additional staffing, and restated the need in remarks on the House Floor:
"Mr. Speaker, the Peace Bridge, located along the northern border in my Western New York district, facilitates the transport of over $30 billion in commerce annually. However increasing wait times and delays pose a significant threat to our nation's economy.
"While I am encouraged by the start of a pre-inspection pilot at the Peace Bridge for commercial vehicles, which would allow trucks entering the United States to be pre-screened on the Canadian side of the border, I am concerned about staffing levels with customs agents at the border.
"I have called on Customs and Border Protection to increase staffing levels at the bridge to facilitate easier accessibility at the northern border crossing and also am encouraging the FY14 Homeland Security budget to include full funding for the CBPs officer staffing request.
"The streamlined flow of people and goods across the border is critical to the Western New York economy, and to the nation's economy. I am committed to fighting to preserve and improve our relationship with Canada and our economic relationship."