Border Security for America Act Exempts U.S., Canadian Citizens from Biometric Screening

The act also permits the construction of "tactical infrastructure and technology," including President Trump's controversial border wall proposal.

by Tim Fenster, Lockport Union-Sun & Journal, N.Y. / August 2, 2017
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(TNS) -- A new House bill is calling for eye or fingerprint scans for travelers entering the United States, but Rep. Chris Collins says Western New York won't see border congestion if it comes to pass.

The proposed Border Security for America Act exempts U.S. and Canadian citizens from biometric screening at border entry points.

Collins, the Clarence Republican who co-sponsored the bill, touted it as the best of both worlds: balancing national security interests while safeguarding the region's border-dependent economy. The act provides $5 billion over four years to increase border security staffing and improve infrastructure.

“Our northern border is an economic asset to Western New York and we need to make sure we move people and products across safely and effectively,” Collins said in a statement. “I am fully supportive of increased national security measures, like those included in this bill, but worked with my colleagues to make sure we avoid disruptions to both American and Canadian citizens that might result from new protocols.”

The act calls for hiring another 5,000 border patrol agents and 5,000 Customs and Border Protection officers, increasing border patrols and authorizing the deployment of National Guardsmen to the U.S.-Mexico border.

It also permits the construction of "tactical infrastructure and technology," including President Trump's controversial border wall proposal.

"Not later than Jan. 20, 2021, the Secretary of Homeland Security ... shall deploy the most practical and effective tactical infrastructure available along the United States border for achieving situational awareness and operational control of the border," the bill reads.

Collins said the act takes into account the security differences between the nation's northern and southern borders.

“Our northern and southern borders face different needs when it comes to security. (House Homeland Security Committee) Chairman (Michael) McCaul took the needs of Western New York into careful consideration when drafting this language and I thank him for his efforts," Collins said of the Texas Republican who introduced the bill on July 28.

The biometrics issue sprang up this past January when Trump issued his travel order that temporarily banned entry of travelers from seven Muslim-majority nations. The order also directed the Department of Homeland Security to implement biometric screening at U.S. border entry points.

The proposal was first recommended by the 9/11 Commission, but has been delayed ever since due to the significant logistical issues it would create.

Collins supported the travel order but pushed back on the biometrics proposal, saying it would delay traffic at local border crossings. He wrote a letter to then-Secretary of Homeland Security John F. Kelly, urging him to walk back the proposal to spare damage to the local economy.

"Biometric entry-exit scanning at our northern border would significantly delay the daily commutes of hard-working Americans and Canadians and cause undue burdens on trade," Collins wrote in the letter, dated Feb. 2.

In early March, when Trump issued a revised executive order, the biometrics proposal exempted "in-scope" travelers, which included U.S. and Canadian citizens. Collins took credit for the revision.

U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, has a more critical view of biometric scans. In a joint letter with the bipartisan Northern Border Caucus, Higgins called biometrics unnecessary because the U.S. and Canada already have an entry-exit initiative that identifies travelers entering one nation from the other.

DHS officials say biometrics are needed to ensure travelers aren't entering the U.S. with fraudulent papers.

“Our border infrastructure is already congested, hampering the seamless flow of goods and people across our border and the economic growth potential that comes with it," Higgins said in a February statement. “Adding another checkpoint layer is logistically unfeasible for many bridges and plazas already at capacity and completely counterproductive to efforts that feed our local and national economies.”

©2017 the Lockport Union-Sun & Journal (Lockport, N.Y.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.