Higgins fights for change to border bill provisions that could lead to long delays at U.S./Canada crossings
Congressman Brian Higgins, D-NY-26, joined the committee on homeland security to debate the Secure our Borders First Act, partisan legislation that proposes what he called unrealistic requirements regarding border security as an excuse to forgo comprehensive immigration reform.
The Secure our Borders First Act would require full implementation of a biometric exit data system, which would require persons heading from the U.S. to Canada to not only be stopped and interviewed by Canadian authorities, as they currently are, but also by U.S. authorities, which has never been the case. This would require billions of dollars of plaza expansions on the U.S. side of the border, and new Customs and Border Protection officers to staff these currently-nonexistent booths and gates.
At an already congested border crossing such as the Peace Bridge in Western New York, Higgins said this system could have disastrous economic effects, especially when not accompanied by corresponding infrastructure improvements to add capacity and offset the delays it would otherwise cause.
"With the two-year mandate for implementing an unworkable, expensive and unproven system, this job-killing bill would effectively close the northern border and cripple key components of the U.S. economy, including manufacturing," said Higgins, who argued the legislation focuses funding for southern border crossings in the U.S., largely ignoring the different needs facing border crossings in the north.
Higgins introduced an amendment that would delay implementation of the biometric program at any given land port of entry until the secretary of homeland security certifies that doing so would not cause significant delays to legitimate commerce and travel at that crossing. Implementation of the system would not be delayed at any international crossing at which wait times would not be appreciably increased.
The Higgins amendment was not in opposition to the biometric exit system, but stressed to the committee that, if this extra step to cross the northern border is implemented then, so too, the funds to increase capacity at crossings to offset the increased delay must be put in place. The amendment was defeated on a party line vote in the committee. The bill, the Secure Our Borders First Act, is scheduled for a vote in the House next week.
"Excessive wait times at the Peace Bridge, Rainbow Bridge and Whirlpool Bridge deter cross-border travel and slow commerce, both of which take a toll on the economy of Western New York," Higgins said. "This is a mistake and we will continue to fight."
Higgins said a much more sensible and cost-effective method of finding out who is crossing the border is for CBP and CBSA (the Canadian counterpart) to share information with each other in real time about who has crossed the border and when and where they have crossed. This information sharing is happening right now; it began as a pilot program in 2012 and has expanded since that time.
In a separate measure, Higgins joined congress members John Katko (R-NY), Peter King (R-NY) and Candice Miller (R-MI) in introducing H.R. 455, a bipartisan bill requiring the Department of Homeland Security to conduct a northern border threat analysis.
Higgins is a member of the House committees on homeland security and foreign affairs, serves as co-chair of the northern border caucus, and recently led a letter urging the Homeland Security appropriations subcommittee to maintain increased staff levels along the U.S./Canada border as well as funding for the pre-inspection pilot program at the Peace Bridge. Higgins strongly supports border security and said it has to be a major component of immigration legislation.