Senate Appropriations Committee Okays Leahy-Collins Amendment To Bar Border-Crossing Fees

WASHINGTON – The Senate Appropriations Committee Thursday became the second Senate panel in a month to reject the idea of charging border-crossing fees on vehicular traffic crossing the Northern Border from Canada, as well as the Southern Border.

In its budget proposal earlier this year, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) included a request for appropriations to study charging people admission for crossing the borders into the United States.  Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) was quick to launch efforts to derail the idea on several fronts.  On Thursday Leahy and Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) succeeded in winning Appropriations Committee approval of their provision banning such fees in the annual budget bill for the agency.  Leahy is the panel’s most senior member.

“We’ve put a second nail in the coffin of this bad idea,” Leahy said.

This is Leahy’s third step to torpedo the border fee idea.  He added a provision to major immigration reform legislation passed by the Senate last month that would permanently bar the imposition of  border-crossing fees.  He also has written to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, asking her to voluntarily shelve the idea.

Leahy also had included two other Northern Border-related amendments in the Judiciary Committee’s work on the immigration reform bill, which passed the Senate last month.  His other provisions would scale back the distance from the border within which Customs and Border Protection agents could enter private lands without a warrant or establish interior traffic checkpoints, such as those used on I-91 in Vermont.  Another provision underscores that the immigration reform bill does not authorize fencing along the Northern Border.  Today, federal traffic checkpoints can be erected up to 100 miles from the Northern Border.  Leahy’s amendment scales that back to 25 miles, while also restricting warrantless searches on private land near the border to 10 miles.  In both cases CBP would retain flexibility to extend those distances when needed. 

Leahy said, “I want to make sure federal laws and federal agencies respect the more than two-centuries-old relationship that Vermont and Quebec have forged over many, many generations.”  He noted that the United States and Canada have a 237-year tradition of encouraging the interchange of people and commerce across the Northern Border, which is the world’s longest border between two peaceful neighbors.  Canada is the United States’ number one trading partner, and bilateral trade between Vermont and Canada accounted for $5.1 billion in 2012 and supported more than 14,000 Vermont jobs.  In 2012, Canadians made 1,708,400 visits to Vermont, spending $168 million while in the Green Mountain State.  The border crosses through communities along the 90-mile border in Vermont and Quebec and in other sections.  The Burlington International Airport depends on Quebec for nearly one-third of its passengers.  Resorts like Jay Peak draw thousands of people south to Vermont every day, contributing to the state’s and to local economies.  “There are dozens of businesses producing goods that depend on a free and open border to create jobs here in Vermont and in Quebec,” Leahy said.  “A new fee on this interchange would threaten the core of our economy.  Asking our hard-working border officers to become tollbooth operators would do nothing to strengthen border security, but it would do a lot to undermine our cultural and economic links to Canada.”

The DHS Appropriations Bill, which would fund the agency for the federal fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

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