May 14, 2013

Editorial: Border fee counterproductive


---- — Here’s an idea that, fortunately, appears to be going nowhere: charging people to cross the U.S. border.

In its 2014 budget, the Department of Homeland Security suggested that a study be done to assess the feasibility and cost of collecting a land crossing fee for the northern and southern borders of the United States.

Homeland Security has the unenviable job of making sure U.S. borders are secure. Its other duties are to guard against terrorism, enforce immigration laws and improve readiness for, response to and recovery from disasters.

None of its duties call for it to enhance trade between the United States and its neighbors: Canada and Mexico. That makes the proposal of this nonsensical idea a little more understandable.

But other agencies, lawmakers and individuals do have to look at the bigger picture, thankfully, and the outcry against a border-crossing fee was immediate and united. In our region, Congressman Bill Owens (D-Plattsburgh), Congressman Peter Welch (D-Vermont) and U.S. Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-New York), Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) have all spoken out against the proposal.

The North Country Chamber of Commerce also opposed the idea, with President Garry Douglas calling it a “ridiculous and economically destructive notion.”

Douglas, who recently returned from meetings in Ottawa, said the plan was “definitely causing questions and uncertainty, which we don’t want to leave in the minds of either tourists or potential investors.”

Homeland Security didn’t suggest any specific amount when it floated the idea. Some people might look at the fee as an easy way for the United States to rake in cash. After all, statistics show that during 2010, more than 51.3 million vehicles crossed the U.S.-Canadian border. An estimated 300,000 people pass through each day.

But it is guaranteed that those numbers would decrease if people had to start paying to cross. The blow to tourism and to trade would far surpass any benefit that could be gained from a border fee.

In some areas of the United States, that might not be so obvious, but here in the North Country, we have first-hand evidence of the value of allowing a free flow of people and goods at the border. We see it in the retail and hotel parking lots packed with cars with Canadian plates, in the Canadian-based industries that thrive in our area, in the many northern neighbors who visit our lakes and mountains.

Leahy recently introduced an amendment to the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act that would bar the creation of a border fee. We hope that puts the idea to rest for good.

Charging people to enter the United States would impede the U.S. economy and therefore be counterproductive to our national interests. When it comes to the border, Homeland Security should stick to its area of expertise — security — and leave economics to other agencies.