BUFFALO, N.Y., April 21 (UPI) -- A proposal by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to charge travelers a fee when crossing into Canada or Mexico drew harsh criticism from lawmakers.
Rep. Brian Higgins, D-N.Y., whose Buffalo-area district includes four bridges connecting western New York and southern Ontario, pledged he would be "very aggressive" in opposing any fees on travelers, saying it would hurt the local economy if Canadian tourists were discouraged from coming states-side. The Buffalo News said Higgins expressed concern the fee charged at the northern border with Canada would only serve to fund the much more expensive security efforts on the Mexican border.
"Are they going to be using the northern border to subsidize operations on the southern border?" he asked Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano during testimony before a House committee Thursday.
Napolitano said she lacked information on the proposed fee during testimony on Capitol Hill, but her written text mentioned the possibility of a fee.
"Processing the more than 350 million travelers annually provides nearly $150 billion in economic stimulus, yet the fees that support these operations have not been adjusted in many cases for more than a decade," Napolitano's written testimony said. "As the complexity of our operations continues to expand, the gap between fee collections and the operations they support is growing, and the number of workforce hours [that] fees support decreases each year."
The Bellingham (Wash.) Herald said it remains unclear whether the fees would only be collected at established border crossings at places like Buffalo's Peace Bridge, where travelers are already charged a toll to cross, or at other border crossings where no such toll is charged.
For their part, Canadian officials expressed concern as well.
"It's important to note that this is simply a study at this point," said Chris Plunkett, a spokesman at the Canadian Embassy in Washington. "But we're confident that any study would conclude that the considerable economic damage any fee would do would greatly outweigh any revenue generated."