Schumer also says a border security task force of several U.S. and Canadian agencies will be established in Massena by October. At a hearing he chaired in Washington yesterday, New York's senior senator questioned Department of Homeland Security officials about new initiatives to balance commerce with fighting drug trafficking. Ryan Morden has more from Washington.
The U-S/Canadian border has in essence thickened with more security provisions ever since 9/11. For example, Americans need to carry passports when heading north. Alan Bersin, a commissioner with US Customs and Border Protection, points out border security needs to be safe, but not too restrictive, “We recognize security and economic competitiveness go hand in hand.”
Canada is the US’s number one trading partner. Speaking in front of a Senate subcommittee on immigration and border security, Bersin says the dollar amount in trade is nothing to sneeze at, “We have a billion dollars a day of trade going north and south across the US/Canadian border.”
Senator Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, chaired the hearing, and told Bersin he’d like to see border inspections go faster for commercial vehicles coming into the US, particularly in Buffalo, “We’ve been getting a lot of complaints from business leaders about the amount of time it’s taking commercial traffic to enter the U-S from Canada. Is there something you can do to expedite commercial traffic to the US from Canada?”
Bersin said Customs and Border Security personnel are working with their Canadian counterparts on a pilot program to get low risk cargo screened before it even gets to the border crossings, “One of the things we are exploring with them is the notion of pre inspection, the concept where we can separate trusted shippers and trusted shipments, even in advance of them coming to the port of entry and therefore permitting them to be released without having to go through the normal port of entry process.”
Schumer wants better security, too. The Canadian border is three times as long as the Mexican border. According to the Senator, drug smuggling has been an issue along the wide stretch, “Methamphetamines, exstasy as well as marijuana. These drugs are smuggled into the country with low flying planes.”
Bersin said an initiative to catch planes by integrating military radar-grade systems with Canadian radar feeds is expected to be in place by November. Immigration and Customs Enforcement director John Morton also testified at the hearing. He addressed a specific crime busting program known as the Border Enforcement Security Taskforce, otherwise known as BEST, “The Strength of the BEST taskforces model is that it involves the permanent co-located investigative taskforces of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.”
There are currently three BEST teams along the northern border: Washington State, Detroit and Buffalo. Morton says a fourth one is coming online in the northern New York town of Massena by October. Schumer says priorities with the Department of Homeland Security are at times backwards that they “lets drugs in but keeps business out.”