INS undertakes full review of NEXUS system

Published on Thu, Sep 5, 2002 by Meg Olson

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INS undertakes full review of NEXUS system

By Meg Olson

The Immigration and Naturalization Service is giving NEXUS its 60-day check up and considering an overhaul on policies and hours of operation. “We’re reviewing all kinds of things,” said Bob Okin, deputy director for the Seattle district. “We want to ensure the program is as effective as we want it to be.”

Okin said they would start their review with the application process – how long applications are taking to process, how consistent the application processing time is, and how consistent and efficient interviews are. Since enrollment for the program began in early June, the Canadian processing center has received close to 30,000 applications. Just over 9,000 have been through evaluation by all four agencies running the NEXUS program – Canada Customs, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, U.S. Customs and the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service – and been approved. Seventy five percent of those are Canadian.

Hours of operation will also get the once over during the current INS review. “They’re analyzing usage numbers now, trying to find out when the lanes are used the most and how to best allocate staffing,” said Seattle district public information officer Garrison Courtney. He said usage figures for the program were not publicly available at this time. The NEXUS lanes at Peace Arch and Pacific Highway are now open four to seven hours a day, with longer hours on weekdays. At Point Roberts, the NEXUS lane is open from 5 to 7 p.m daily.

The INS will also review denials and why people are being turned down for the program, Okin said. Three percent of those who applied for NEXUS, 236 Canadians and 94 U.S. citizens, have been turned down for reasons ranging from previous criminal convictions to houseplants in the PACE lane. Stories are plentiful of long forgotten run-ins with the law or produce under the seat that had not jeopardized PACE membership cropping up during a NEXUS interview. Four members of the program have had their membership revoked for violating NEXUS rules.

A Ladner B.C. resident lost her PACE privileges because she had forgotten she had a bottle of wine in her trunk, but was reinstated to the program. However, she was denied NEXUS and told it was because of a customs violation. “I asked if I could appeal it and they said absolutely no,” she said.

A Point Roberts resident was turned down because an onion had been found in the wheel well of her truck, leading to a PACE warning but not loss of PACE privileges. On the other hand, another applicant who has been approved for the program had a warning in the PACE program for a lemon.

“There doesn’t seem to be any consistency,” said Point Roberts marina manager David Gellatly. “I have a pile of applications here and very few people are taking it because there’s a growing sense of paranoia. There are very few people in the world who don’t have a little skeleton in their closet.”

In some cases NEXUS applicants who have crossed the border for years have found themselves not only denied NEXUS but admission to the U.S. or Canada. One Point Roberts resident and frequent border-crosser found himself stranded in Blaine after the inspector interviewing him found he had a 17-year-old conviction for reckless driving. He was denied NEXUS and admission to Canada. He was unable to return home until later that night after his wife brought down $200 for Canada Immigration to issue a “certificate of rehabilitation.”

Cross-border attorney Tom Prescott is getting extra business thanks to worries about NEXUS. “I’ve been approached by people about getting pardons or records expunged. They want to clean things up before they apply.” Prescott himself was denied NEXUS, and he was surprised. “I had a run in with a border guard a few years ago,” he said.

Prescott’s PACE privileges were revoked after he drove away from the inspection booth before instructed to do so by the inspector, incorrectly assuming he was free to go. He filed a suit in Canadian federal court and settled with Canada Customs to have the infraction removed, or so he thought. While he was accepted when he reapplied to PACE, the infraction came up again in his NEXUS interview. “I was a little miffed. Now I have to go back to court and this time get an order,” he said. “I know of people who aren’t applying assuming they’ll be turned down. It doesn’t seem the program is achieving what it’s supposed to.”

Courtney said that, with a three-percent rejection rate, the number of denials was within an acceptable range. “This is a four agency program and all four agencies’ rules apply, all the agencies need to agree,” he said.
Courtney added that those agencies also enforce regulations set by other agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture which has set stringent rules for what is allowed in the NEXUS lanes. Courtney said he did not know the rejection rate for the PACE program but estimated it was lower than the rate of NEXUS rejection, due to tighter standards and more in-depth information checks. “One of the significant things not like the PACE program is drunk driving convictions, which are a problem for Canada. People need to comply fully with the laws of both countries,” he said.

Some questions have been raised about what level of stringency actually has an impact on national security. “There needs to be some sort of statute of limitations,” said Point Roberts resident Ruby White. “They shouldn’t go back all the way to when baby-boomers were raising hell. A lot of them grew up to be good, respectable people.”

White also felt that the zero tolerance policy, under which NEXUS participants lose their privileges after one violation of program or general agency rules, was appropriate for serious infractions but not for an onion that fell out of a grocery bag. “That’s just bureaucratic pettiness,” she said.

The current review underway is an INS review of the entire process as it relates to INS function but Courtney said the information could be used by other agencies. “If we find things that can be improved on we’ll share that,” he said. ..

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