(WBNG Binghamton) New York Senator Charles E. Schumer on Thursday announced that he is introducing a critical amendment to the comprehensive immigration reform bill currently on the Senate floor that would allow for permanent authorization of the truck pre-inspection agreement reached by the United States and Canada on the Peace Bridge.
According to a news release from Schumer's office:
Currently, there is a pilot program for pre-inspection of U.S.-bound trucks on the Canadian side of the border set to begin later this year, but no legislation is in place make that permanent. Schumer’s amendment would govern all pre-inspection arrangements with foreign countries and it represents a major breakthrough in the development of the pre-inspection process on the Peace Bridge. Schumer highlighted that if this legislation passes and the pilot program is deemed a success by reducing wait times without compromising safety, then there would be then be no legislative roadblock to a permanent pre-inspection program on the Canadian side. The language of the amendment was negotiated and agreed upon by both Canadian and U.S. authorities and will permanently authorize many of the functions that make the pre-inspection program possible, including the privileges and immunities of customs officials operating on foreign soil.
“Pre-inspection at the Peace Bridge will speed traffic, reduce horrible wait times, improve the flow of commerce and reduce pollution from idling trucks on the American plaza. If getting DHS to start a pre-inspection pilot program at the Peace Bridge was a ‘single,’ then making that arrangement permanent will be a ‘homerun’ for Western New York residents, businesses, and commuters alike.”
Schumer continued, “I am absolutely thrilled that Canadian authorities and the Departments of State and Homeland Security were able to forge an agreement on pre-inspection that would govern a permanent program on the Peace Bridge. Passing this amendment would mean avoiding a major roadblock to a lasting agreement for pre-inspection on the Peace Bridge. “With pre-inspection and the overall development of the Peace Bridge, my watchword is cooperation. This legislation is indicative of the cooperative effort required to make progress on the Peace Bridge issues that matter to the both the United States and Canada, and I believe this compromise gives the pre-inspection pilot program a lot of momentum. I am optimistic about its passage along with comprehensive immigration reform, and I am looking forward to putting in place a legislative path from ‘pilot’ to ‘permanent’ for pre-inspection on the Peace Bridge.”
Senator Schumer filed the legislation, which was agreed to by Canadian authorities and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), as an amendment to the comprehensive immigration reform bill, which he is shepherding through the Senate. The amendment spells out a number of provisions that govern preclearance arrangements made with any foreign government and makes possible a permanent agreement on preclearance between the U.S. and Canada on the Peace Bridge. Schumer was instrumental in negotiating the agreement for the initial pilot program set to take effect later this year. This legislation or similar legislation has to be passed in order for the agreement to move beyond a pilot or temporary agreement.
The amendment authorizes the Secretary of State and Department of Homeland Security to enter into pre-inspection agreements with other countries and authorizes foreign law enforcement personnel on American soil. The legislation also includes guidelines that establish the privileges and immunities for customs officers for both countries in agreement, including the authorization for customs officials to carry arms onto foreign soil. These officials will be subjected to the same criminal penalties of their home country if they commit an offense on foreign soil that would have been deemed illegal under their own country’s laws. This legislation also addresses a reciprocal deal in which Canadians and Americans can bear arms in the other country. Schumer highlighted that this legislation would not affect the pre-inspection pilot program in any way, which DHS has the authority to enter into without authorizing legislation, but was an essential hurdle that needed to be crossed if the program was to be extended or become permanent.
Schumer was the prime champion of the prescreening pilot program and has long pushed for shared border management efforts and the moving of pre-inspection of U.S.-bound truck traffic to the Canadian side of the border in order to alleviate huge delays that have put a serious damper on international commerce and tourism, and that exacerbate traffic snarls and air pollution.
Moving the prescreening process to the Canadian side of the border will mean that any new Peace Bridge plaza on the American side will have greater flexibility during the design process. A more efficient pre-inspection process in Canada will result in fewer delays for truckers carrying goods into the United States, for tourists, and for day visitors seeking to take in Sabres or Bills games, or to shop or dine at New York restaurants. It would greatly improve commerce between businesses on both sides of the border. Currently, 100% of all trucks must go through a congested screening process on the American side of the border, as that congestion builds it has an adverse impact on air quality and commerce and backs up traffic across the bridge and into Canada. After the pre-inspection pilot program gets underway, 90% would be fully cleared on the Canadian side, with approximately 10% requiring additional screening in the United States. Suspicious vehicles entering the U.S. will be flagged as they came onto American soil, and made to undergo additional screening at the U.S. Port of Entry before entry could be permitted. Schumer’s amendment would allow for such an agreement to exist in perpetuity between the United States and Canada.