Senator Charles E. Schumer announced that the Peace Bridge preclearance pilot will officially begin on February 24th, with Customs and Border Protection prepared to pre-inspect trucks at Ft. Erie on the Canadian side of the Peace Bridge. The pilot program will last for at least six months, but could last as long as a year. Schumer will push to make the program permanent thereafter.
Schumer has long advocated for the creation of a preclearance pilot program, working with several Customs and Border Protection Commissioners and Secretaries of Homeland Security to first conceive of the pilot, and then secure an agreement between U.S. and Canadian Authorities to work towards the creation of the program.
Schumer also successfully fought to increase CBP staffing at the Peace Bridge in the recent budget in order to ensure the preclearance pilot is adequately staffed; and Schumer’s amendment to the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill passed by the Senate last year would clear the way for a permanent preclearance agreement.
“After over 3 years of hard work, the date has finally been set for when the commercial truck pre-inspection program will begin on the Canadian side of the Peace Bridge,” said Schumer. “It’s been a long road to get the Peace Bridge chosen as one of only two pilot sites in the country, and then to get all American and Canadian officials on board, but I am confident it will prove worth the wait. The pilot program will make history in Western New York, and if it’s successful, could lead to its permanence and the relocation of all truck inspections to Ontario. In the short and long term, I am confident that Western New York commuters will see a change in traffic congestion, local businesses will notice an improved flow of products and economic activity, and the entire community will benefit as Western New York tears down the ‘stop’ sign at our border.”
Over the course of nearly 3 years, Schumer has led the effort in getting the Department of Homeland Security to commit to testing a pre-inspection program of U.S.-bound truck traffic at the Peace Bridge, on 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. An important timeline is below:
- • Feb. 17, 2011 – DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano publicly stated that there is “no chance of preclearance, at Peace Bridge, it cannot be done.”
- • May 17, 2011 — Senator Schumer chaired a hearing of the Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees, and Border Security, where he pressed top officials from the Department of Homeland Security for progress on and support for a number of Canadian border security initiatives. Specifically, Schumer pressed U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Alan Bersin to work toward prescreening commercial traffic on the Canadian side of the Peace Bridge, and in response, Commissioner Bersin said that they are committed to working with Canadian authorities to segregate high-risk cargo at high-volume crossings like the Peace Bridge.
- • October 19, 2011 – During a Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano confirmed to Senator Schumer that the “Beyond the Border” agreement between the U.S. and Canada on border management would be announce in a few weeks and include an agreement that would eventually allow the prescreening of all U.S.-bound truck traffic on the Canadian side of the border.
- • March 22, 2012 – Senator Schumer pushed Secretary Napolitano to name the Peace Bridge as one of the two pilot programs for prescreening of commercial traffic that would be selected by the U.S. and Canada as part of the “Beyond the Border Agreement.”
- • April 18, 2012 – Senator Schumer met with Canadian Ambassador Gary Doer to persuade him that Canada should demand that the Peace Bridge be selected as one of the two pilot programs for prescreening of commercial traffic that would be selected by the U.S. and Canada as part of the “Beyond the Border Agreement.” After that meeting, Ambassador Doer was quoted as saying “Sen. Schumer made some forceful arguments as to why the Peace Bridge should be considered for one of the prescreening pilots. These arguments will be conveyed to my colleagues in Ottawa who are working with their U.S. counterparts to implement the Canada- U.S. ‘Beyond the Border’ action plan.” Schumer also called Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird and Canadian Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews in June 2012 and made a similar pitch.
- • July 20, 2012 – Senator Schumer spoke to Secretary Napolitano and reiterated his push for the Peace Bridge to be chosen as one of the two pilot programs for prescreening of commercial traffic that would be selected by the U.S. and Canada as part of the “Beyond the Border Agreement.”
- • October 2012- Schumer announces that DHS will include the Peace Bridge as one of the two locations to conduct their commercial pre-inspection program, in addition to Blaine, Washington.
- • March 2013 – Schumer announced that Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano met with Canadian Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews to discuss the ongoing partnership between the United States and Canada, as part of the Beyond the Border initiative, and also signed the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) truck cargo pre-inspection pilot project.
- • June 2013 - Including amendment in the Senate-passed Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill to make the legislative changes necessary for the pre-clearance pilot program to be made permanent. Beyond just the Peace Bridge though, this preclearance legislation will remain in effect to govern not only our preclearance arrangement with Canada but any future preclearance arrangements we might make with any country. However, it is fair to say that the impetus for this legislation is the Peace Bridge arrangement with Canada, and of course Chuck’s efforts in pushing DHS to make preclearance a permanent arrangement.
- 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.