U.S. Congress to reconsider border checks of truck drivers

WASHINGTON, D.C. (April 13) – U.S. Congress again has the opportunity to strike down a mandate to check the visas of Canadian truckers crossing into the United States, a requirement critics say would tangle international commerce and create massive border delays.

Legislation that would revise requirements for an automated exit-entry check at all land and sea border crossings was introduced by Sen. Spencer Abraham (R-Mich.). The bill, the Border Improvement and Immigration Act of 1999 (S.745), would effectively confine the additional checks to airports.

As it stands, the current law requires inspectors to collect a record of departure for all foreigners leaving the U.S. and match it to an arrival record in order to crack down on immigrants who overstay their visas.

The procedure, outlined in Section 110 of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, was to be implemented on Oct. 1, 1998. But it was postponed because the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service lacked the resources to enforce it.

“The extent of our trade with Canada has caused us to develop an intricate web of interdependence that requires a substantially open border,” Abraham said as he introduced the new bill. “With just-in-time delivery becoming the norm in our automobile assembly lines and throughout our manufacturing sector, a delivery of parts delayed by as little as 20 minutes can cause expensive assembly line shutdowns which our economy can ill afford.”

Last July, the Senate approved by a 99-0 vote an amendment that essentially would have limited the automated immigration checks to airports. The House considered a proposal to merely delay the border check system. Unable to agree on which approach is best, lawmakers never acted upon the proposal.

Abraham said the current act was never intended to apply to Canadians in first place, and that its wording — that a mandatory entry-exit system should capture the records of “every alien” — was added without open debate.

Hardliners in Congress say Canadians should be treated no differently than any other foreigners. They believe that maintaining soft entry rules along the northern border exposes the United States to danger from drug runners and terrorists who see Canada as a gateway.

The chairmen of the respective House and Senate Subcommittees responsible for 1996 legislation both agreed in an exchange of letters with the Canadian Ambassador confirming that Section 110 would not apply to Canadians at the northern border. “However, because of the term ‘every alien,’ the INS has interpreted the law to require this program be implemented at all land borders, in addition to air and sea ports of entry,” Abraham said.

“Simply put,” he added, “Section 110 is a mistake, and we must correct it.”

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