U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene has introduced legislation to block the Department of Homeland Security from taking steps to impose a fee on people entering the country at land border crossings such as those in Whatcom County.
DelBene's bill is a response to Homeland Security's recent request for funding in its 2014 budget to pay for a study of how such a fee could be put in place. Her bill consists of a single sentence that prohibits Homeland Security from collecting a land border crossing fee, or from studying such a fee, on either the northern or the southern border.
"The commerce and tourism that comes with sharing a northern border is a critical factor in maintaining a vibrant economy in Whatcom County," DelBene said in a press release. "A border crossing fee would have an immediate negative impact on our local economy and this legislation seeks to stop any fee before it could be implemented."
In a later interview, DelBene said Homeland Security "needs to focus on things that can grow the economy."
The 1st District Democrat also noted that U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, is trying to insert similar fee-blocking language in the Senate's comprehensive immigration reform legislation
House Democrats and Republicans from northern border states have signed on to co-sponsor DelBene's bill. They include U.S. Reps. Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.), Bill Owens (D-N.Y.), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.) and Bill Huizenga (R-Mich.).
Homeland Security's 2014 budget proposal seeks increases in existing fees charged for a variety of customs and immigration services, such as the fees that air and sea travelers pay when they enter the country. But as of now, no fees are imposed on those who enter by car, bus or train. Some land border crossings, such as Detroit and Buffalo, use toll bridges, but the toll money goes to bridge operators, not Homeland Security.
Homeland Security has proposed taking a small step toward changing that, seeking an unspecified sum for "assessing the feasibility and cost relating to establishing and collecting a land border crossing fee for both land border pedestrians and passenger vehicles along the northern and southwest borders of the United States."
The budget request says the study should consider a fee that could be added to existing tolls in places like Detroit and Buffalo, or to ticket prices for those arriving by bus or train. But Homeland Security's budget proposal also proposes taking a look at collecting fees at "land ports of entry where existing capability is not present," which would include the Blaine, Lynden and Sumas crossings in Whatcom County.