WASHINGTON — A US senator from Michigan is teaming up with Canada's ambassador in Washington to repeal new border controls they say would spell disaster for US-Canada tourism and trade.
Sen. Spencer Abraham (R) and Ambassador Raymond Chrtien are upset about a provision in the new US immigration law, which requires the government to develop an automated system to track the entry and departure of "every alien" who visits the country. Congress's goal was to crack down on illegal immigration and individuals who overstay their visas.
Senator Abraham says the intent of the law was to deal with people entering the US at airports. But the Immigration and Naturalization Service has interpreted "every alien" to include Canadians and US permanent residents who cross busy land borders with Canada. Instead of answering a few questions at the border, as is now the case, entrants would have to stop, fill out paperwork, and perhaps pay fees.
Abraham introduced a bill yesterday he hopes will keep traffic and trade moving between the US and Canada. More than 116 million people entered the US from Canada last year, according to his office. "Imagine the traffic nightmare of backup for miles and miles that would result from implementing this new provision," Abraham says. "Optimistically, the new controls might take an extra two minutes per border-crosser to fulfill. That is almost 17 hours of delay for every hour's worth of traffic."
The implications for both countries are enormous, Ambassador Chrtien says. "There is more trade on one bridge between Windsor and Detroit than total US trade with Japan," he says. This provision "goes against everything that [the two countries] have tried to accomplish in the last two years."
Similar problems could be expected at the US-Mexico border, an Abraham aide says. Abraham, chairman of the Senate subcommittee on immigration, holds hearings on the bill today.