Growing up in Caribou, barely 10 miles from New Brunswick, I saw every day that on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border are the lifelong friends and family members, the shopping, medical services, churches, and all the other things that make a community. From Jackman to Fort Kent to Calais, Mainers understand the principle that, while America’s borders must be closed to our enemies, they must always be open to our friends.
For that reason alone, I, and people throughout Maine, were alarmed by the recent announcement that the Department of Homeland Security’s proposed 2014 budget includes funding to study the feasibility and cost of instituting a fee for anyone crossing into our country by land – on foot, on a bike, or in a car – from Canada or Mexico. This is a bad idea that should be abandoned. And, as a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I have taken action to prevent scarce federal funds from being used for this ill-conceived purpose.
Any fee, no matter how small, would have a negative impact on the day-to-day commerce and travel between border communities. It would unduly penalize families who have relatives on either side of the border. In addition, it would damage relations between the United States and the neighbors that are vital trading partners. The Canadian ambassador told me that Canadians, too, are alarmed at the prospect of such a fee.
Maine’s biggest trading partner, not surprisingly, is Canada. At the national level, too, America’s biggest trading partner is Canada and Mexico is third. Our goal should be to enhance ties with our neighbors, not put what would be unnecessary barriers in place. In addition to our strong economic ties, we must preserve the friendships the United States enjoys with Canada and Mexico. Singling out our neighbors for a fee that would apply only to them would damage those relationships.
This fee would also hurt American border communities. According to the Maine International Trade Center, more than 300,000 people cross the U.S.-Canada border each day. Many American communities and businesses along the northern border rely on trade and tourism to power their economies, and imposing a land border fee on individuals would deter Canadians from visiting the United States. A decrease in tourism and travel would have a detrimental impact on these border communities. It would be truly ironic for the Department of Homeland Security, after investing significant taxpayer dollars in improving border facilities at such places as Calais, Van Buren, and Jackman, to now adopt a policy that undoubtedly would cause a significant drop in their use.
While I recognize the difficult fiscal challenges facing the federal government, including the Department of Homeland Security, imposing a border crossing fee for individuals crossing the border over land is not a sustainable solution to our budgetary concerns. For that reason, I am asking my colleagues on the Appropriations Committee to join me in blocking this misguided proposal. Current federal law bars the U.S. Treasury and the Attorney General from charging and collecting any fee for the immigration inspection and pre-inspection of passengers arriving over land at a U.S. port of entry whose journey originated in Canada or Mexico. This prohibition should be maintained.
One of the best examples of our special relationship with Canada is the “Hands Across the Border” summer festival, which demonstrates just how much the two municipalities of Calais, Maine, and St. Stephen, New Brunswick, truly are one community. We must not permit the hands of friendship from becoming hands demanding payment.
Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) is a Senior Member of the Senate Appropriations Committee