Assemblyman Robin Schimminger announced today that he will be introducing a measure in Albany calling upon President Bush and Congress to put a halt to plans that will require travelers of all ages between the U.S. and Canada, including U.S. citizens, to produce a passport or other equivalent form of identification when crossing the border.
Schimminger, chairman of the Assembly Committee on Economic Development, Job Creation, Commerce and Industry, said that the plan put forth as part of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative by the U.S. Departments of State and Homeland Security will hurt cross-border commerce and tourism along the U.S.-Canadian border from Maine to Alaska should it be implemented as presently conceived. His legislative resolution urges the President and Congress to fully analyze the impact of the ID proposal on all economic sectors and consider other accessible and affordable forms of documentation before approving any final plan.
“This passport provision will have a huge impact at New York’s 17 land border crossings with Canada, from the Niagara River to the 1,000 Islands-St. Lawrence region to the Plattsburgh area,” said Schimminger. “Every one of the 1.9 million New Yorkers who cross the border into Canada each year, including young children, would need a passport, Nexus card or similar travel ID to re-enter the U.S. In addition, the 2.3 million Canadians visiting New York State would also have to present comparable documentation upon entry into the U.S. Birth certificates and driver’s licenses would no longer be valid forms of identification at the border.”
“While the security of the border is essential, it’s clear that some officials in Washington don’t understand how important efficient and flexible border crossings are to the economies of regions along our northern border, such as Buffalo Niagara. Binational tourism efforts in the region would be set back as many prospective visitors may not want to go through the hassle and expense of obtaining passports in order to visit both sides of Niagara Falls, for example, and may just decide to vacation elsewhere,” Schimminger said.
The lawmaker noted that the initial cost of U.S. passports for a family of four would be $358, and would be as much as $598 if the passports had to be acquired on an expedited basis for travel on short notice. “This ‘passport tax’ will be a burden for many families,” he said.
“This is a quality of life issue for us. Many residents of Western New York and Southern Ontario frequently make spontaneous day trips across the border to attend a sporting or cultural event, to shop or dine, to ski or play golf, or simply to visit family and friends,” added Schimminger. “Bridge operators project a drop in casual automobile traffic across the border of as much as 30 percent if this plan goes through, which will impact toll revenues and hinder the ability of the Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority or the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission to go out to the bond market in order to finance large-scale capital projects, like a new Peace Bridge.”
“We certainly want to make sure that the borders are secure, but we also want to ensure a free flow of commerce and tourists in cross-border communities,” Schimminger stated. “The ‘seamless border’ that’s been driving commercial and tourism development and job growth on both sides of the Niagara River is being threatened by this ill-conceived proposal.”
Schimminger said his legislative resolution could be taken up in Albany as soon as the Assembly reconvenes, either later this year in a special session or in January when the 2006 legislative session begins. In addition, Schimminger is outlining his concerns in letters to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff.