With markup set to begin Thursday on comprehensive immigration reform legislation in the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the panel's chairman, Monday introduced an amendment to bar the creation of a land border crossing fee.
It is the first amendment to the draft bill that Leahy has filed, and he will file others tomorrow. He has set Tuesday at 5 p.m. as the deadline for filing amendments for the upcoming markup sessions, which start on Thursday and are expected to last several days.
Last month the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) included in the Administration's budget proposal a request for appropriations to study charging admission for pedestrians and passenger vehicles crossing land borders into the United States. Leahy is fighting the idea of this border crossing fee on several fronts at once. He is also rounding up support on the Senate Appropriations Committee for blocking funding for a study in the annual budget bill for DHS. And he and Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) are sending a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano asking her to drop the proposal. Leahy is the most senior member of the Appropriations Committee.
Leahy said, "It does not take a study to know that charging Canadian relatives, friends, tourists, business people and shoppers a fee to enter the United States is a bad idea. I do not intend to let this half-baked idea see the light of day."
He said a border crossing fee would jeopardize the special relationship that the United States and Canada have enjoyed under a 236-year tradition of a welcoming Northern Border. He said taxing entry to the United States would deflate thriving commerce that is important to all the Northern Border states and limit cultural interchange.
"Canada is the United States' number one trading partner," he noted. "Some 300,000 Canadians cross to visit the United States every day, spending about $235 million. In 2006 Canadians made 642,400 visits to Vermont, spending $115 million while they were here. In a recent year Canada bought 44 percent of Vermont's exports, amounting to $4.9 billion and 15,700 jobs. The border crosses through communities along the 90-mile border in Vermont and Quebec and in other sections, and six airports even straddle the border in other states. Here in Vermont our economic prosperity is interwoven with Quebec's prosperity. 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 our local economy. And there are dozens of businesses producing goods -- from IBM's semiconductors, to Barry Callebaut's chocolates -- that depend on a free and open border to create jobs here in Vermont and in Quebec. That's not theory; it's a practical, daily fact of life in our state, and it's worth keeping and defending. A new fee on these activities would threaten the core of our economy."
He also said charging fees would be a mis-match for the work done by Border Patrol and Field Operations Officers on the border. "We ask them to not only evaluate the people and goods that come across the border but also to be experts on the laws of international trade -- all while having firearms strapped to their waists in case they come across a criminal or terrorist. We should not also ask them to be tollbooth operators."