04.27.10

Leahy Secures Pledge From Secretary Napolitano For A Public Meeting In Vermont On The Proposed Replacement Facility At The Morses Line Border Crossing

[WASHINGTON – The Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday held an oversight hearing on the Department of Homeland Security, in which DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano testified.  The hearing was organized and led by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the panel’s chairman.  Member statements, witness testimony and a webcast are available online.  In an exchange with Secretary Napolitano over the controversy surrounding the proposed replacement of a border crossing facility at Morses Line, Leahy Tuesday secured a pledge for a public hearing to be held near the crossing point in Vermont.  Transcript of the exchange follows:]

CHAIRMAN LEAHY: I asked you in February if you could arrange public meetings between the Department and the community on the Morses Line port of entry. I've heard, since then, from many concerned community members. They want more information. Can you commit to arranging a public meeting, with the local community, on this issue in the very near future? A public meeting in or along the border with Canada?

SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: Yes, absolutely Mr. Chairman. This is one of those things where we are trying to work with the owners to get down to the footprint. I believe it’s actually been reduced down from 5 acres to 1.5 (4.9) acres in terms of what CBP has determined it needs to actually do the kind of port improvement there -- there's a certain minimum amount, unless you do it, you might as well not do it at all. So we will absolutely have one more community meeting. As I've said, we have been working to try to minimize the amount of acreage involved.

CHAIRMAN LEAHY: And I understand the situation you have.  We've had Operation Stonegarden, we've had the situation with pent up concerns. I fully expect it’s not going to be the way it was when I was a youngster and you drive up to Canada for the day and back. Many of us have family members in Canada. I realize it’s not quite as easy going back and forth. This is a friendly country and there may be some unfriendly people that come into the country, but it is a balancing act that we have to do. I know that Alan Bersin, the new CBP Commissioner, has been to Derby Line to see things firsthand.  I will be having more and more questions of you. I want to mitigate concerns -- when people get stopped -- tens of miles away from the border, along our interstate – when they get stopped, and have to prove their citizenship. People have been driving back and forth on that roadway for decades. It is creating the animosity between our residents and the federal government that we don't need to have.  And I know that the men and women who work there are very dedicated, very hard working, and very professional.  But I want to find ways to lower the tension that's going on between Vermonters -- who themselves are very professional, very law-abiding -- with the border.

SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: Indeed, Mr. Chairman.  And I appreciate any suggestions you have on that score.  So we will continue to work with your office and work together.  As I said earlier, we'd be happy to conduct a public hearing, or have a meeting with the community, up there where Morses Line is.

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