PACE reopening unlikely

Published on Thu, Nov 1, 2001 by Meg Olson

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PACE reopening unlikely

By Meg Olson

At the Autumn Border Business Conference in Bellingham last week local business people joined congressman Rick Larsen in asking the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to reopen PACE lanes with full inspections until an alternative could be developed. The answer was, in a nutshell, no.

“We have to have people to open additional lanes,” said INS district director Bob Coleman. He said additional staff recently assigned to local borders would not be enough to provide adequate security in the additional lane for PACE participants. “When something like this happens we go back to square one – 100 percent identification,” he said.

After visiting with Blaine and Point Roberts residents and business owners earlier this month U.S. Representative Rick Larsen had asked the INS to reopen PACE lanes but with the same inspection level as other lanes.

“The PACE program was very beneficial to people and businesses, and I was one of them” said Bill Grant, developer of WorldMark resort in Birch Bay. “Our visitors are down 67 percent.”

INS deputy regional director for the west coast Carolyn Muyzka said her agency would consider the Larsen suggestion but the decision would be made at the national level. She added the INS supported commuter lanes but the bar had been raised on security for those programs. “The PACE lane in its current format does not offer the level of security we need,” she said.

The only commuter 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. “This is the direction we are going and the level of security we want,” Muyzka said. The annual cost is $129 per person. The cost for PACE, which was discontinued after September 11, was $25 per vehicle.

A potential middle ground is the NEXUS system, a pilot program Muyzka said could meet INS security needs. “I support having NEXUS or a program like it,” Coleman said. “We want point of origin data available in the booth.”

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 who’s in the car with who’s 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 program 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 was $173,503.

There was some confusion about where the equipment for the two local NEXUS lanes had gone. “We do have the equipment,” Muyzka said. “There is some disagreement about whether we have the equipment or not,” Coleman said.

District acting assistant director for inspections Ron Hays said most of the needed equipment was in place at Pacific Highway. “I need the computer and I need the antenna,” he said. “Once I get that we can get rolling and hopefully have the lane open in a couple of days.” He said no NEXUS equipment was in place for Point Roberts or Peace Arch crossings.
The first step, Hays said, would be enrollment. All current PACE participants would need to visit the Pacific Highway port and be re-enrolled in NEXUS. “I’ve made the argument that now is the most logical time to do it so we could deal with the enrollment in a leisurely fashion.” Ultimately, he said, the decision to go ahead with the new commuter program rests with national INS bosses in Washington D.C.

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. The pilot was suspended after September 11 until evaluation of the program was completed, which has been further delayed by a public employees strike in Canada, said Canadian immigration director for B.C. and the Yukon Michel Smith. Smith said the committee evaluating the program expected to meet in January and hoped the program would be ready for deployment next year.

Roger Bull of Better Borders Northwest said the foundation for NEXUS was here. “This is the perfect place to test the NEXUS system,” he said. “You have 160,000 people in the PACE program who have been carefully vetted as not criminals. This is an opportunity to use an existing resource to implement a new system as quickly as possible. It’s quite sufficient for the honest and safe people who use this border.”

While PACE won’t be opening for southbound traffic, there were grumblings on the Canadian side that CANPASS may reopen after minister of foreign affairs John Manley mentioned the possibility, Smith said but he added a qualification. “In the spirit of cooperation we don’t want to get ahead of our American counterparts,” he said. crossings to increase security and reduce waits was also being discussed.

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