Larsen asks INS to reopen tighter PACE
By Meg Olson
visiting with Blaine and Point Roberts residents and business
owners last week, U.S. Representative Rick Larsen is asking
the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to reopen
PACE lanes, but with tighter security.
I was struck deeply by the sheer impact of the terrorist attack on September 11 and the resulting security provisions on the businesses and families of Blaine and Point Roberts, Larsen wrote to INS district director Robert Coleman Jr. on October 2. In light of the economic paralysis now gripping these towns I would like to suggest action can be taken to increase traffic without sacrificing the safety of our border.
Larsen said reopening PACE could be a short-term solution while the INS reviewed security and technology for dedicated commuter lanes.
Participants have paid for it, he said. They would still be subject to inspections but in effect they could jump the line.
INS deputy district director Bob Okin said the decision to reopen PACE would be made in Washington, D.C. Its not a regional decision but one made at our headquarters, he said. He added commuter lanes would remain closed until INS was satisfied they met security requirements. The only commuter program in the United States which does at this time is the SENTRI system on the southern border, which remains open. It incorporates transponders on vehicles and automatic containment systems with FBI-checked databases of program participants. The annual cost is $125 per person. The cost for PACE, which was discontinued after September 11, was $25 per vehicle.
In the long run Larsen said he expects increased technology will need to be put into place at local borders to heighten security for commuter lanes.
Equipment for a new high-tech alternative PACE has already been purchased and the new program was expected to be up and running at Pacific Highway last month. Okin said the program is stalled pending a review of security but confirms the equipment is in Blaine.
NEXUS was developed and put in place at Port Huron, Michigan last year using $1.2 million of the $1.6 million allocated by Congress in 1998 to expand PACE, according to an INS status report obtained by The Northern Light. Some of those funds were also used to purchase the equipment necessary for NEXUS lanes at Pacific Highway and Peace Arch crossings in Blaine. The estimated cost for an additional NEXUS lane to open and run for the first month is $173,503.
NEXUS uses radio-tagged identification cards to trigger a photo of and information on the enrollee as they approach the booth, allowing the inspector to match whos in the car with whos in the program. Participants are subject to more extensive background checks than PACE participants. The program is also the first to integrate the U.S. and Canadian commuter programs into a joint database.
The Pacific Highway program was scheduled to get going last summer and the Peace Arch PACE was expected to be converted to NEXUS this month, according to the INS report.
Larsen said he feels NEXUS is a good answer to PACE security concerns. Were in the middle of a war on terrorism, he said. I can understand the INS reluctance to open PACE as it was. NEXUS is an absolutely acceptable security level and its a model that will work here. He hopes to meet with new INS commissioner James Ziegler to push for solutions at local borders.
I am not going away on this issue, Larsen said. Its going to take a combination of staffing, technology and working with Canadian partners.
At a Senate hearing October 3 Senator Patty Murray hammered home the same message to Ziegler and Customs Commissioner Robert Bonner. Its clear to me that a substantial portion of new INS and Customs agents must be deployed along the northern border, Murray said, receiving assurances both agencies are actively working to boost staff levels at local borders.
Murray also called for more cross-border cooperation. We must continue to work with Canadian authorities and Canadian people to confront the challenges ahead, she said.