Various Issues Led to the Termination of the United States-Canada Shared Border Management Pilot Project

GAO-08-1038R: Published: Sep 4, 2008. Publicly Released: Sep 4, 2008.

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In the years since the 2001 terrorist attacks, balancing the need to secure U.S. borders while maintaining the flow of legitimate cross-border travel and commerce has taken on an added importance. The United States and Canada share a border that extends nearly 4,000 miles, and one of the world's largest trading relationships. Each year, approximately 70 million travelers and 35 million vehicles cross the border from Canada into the United States, according to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Given the volume of cross-border travel and trade between the United States and Canada, border congestion and the resulting wait times have a substantial economic impact on both nations. Furthermore, according to an analysis by DHS, the heightened emphasis on border security following the 2001 terrorist attacks has lengthened processing time for travelers and cargo crossing into the United States. Recognizing the need to improve both border security and border-crossing efficiency, the United States and Canada have cooperated on various cross-border management initiatives intended to increase the flow of legitimate travel across the border while maintaining security. For example, to facilitate the travel of low-risk prescreened individuals across the northern border, the United States and Canada jointly operate the NEXUS program. The NEXUS program allows registered border residents and frequent cross-border travelers identified as low-risk individuals access to dedicated lanes and expedited processing with minimal inspection. The United States and Canada also coordinate on border law enforcement programs such as the Integrated Border Enforcement Team Program (IBET), which is a bi-national, multi-agency law enforcement initiative that (1) provides, where necessary, support to national security investigations associated to the Canada/United States border and (2) investigates illegal cross-border activities. A key collaborative effort to improve security and relieve congestion at the ports of entry across the northern border is to move customs and immigration inspection activities away from the border--a concept known as "land preclearance" or "shared border management." In December 2004, the United States and Canada announced that the two governments had agreed to move forward with a land preclearance pilot project at the Buffalo, New York-Fort Erie, Ontario Peace Bridge and at one other border crossing site along the northern border, which had not yet been determined. The land preclearance pilot project flowed from the 2001 Smart Border Declaration and its associated action plan, which was meant to enhance the security along the northern border while facilitating information sharing and the legitimate flow of people and goods, and securing infrastructure. The preclearance pilot at the Peace Bridge would involve the relocation of all U.S. border inspection operations for both commercial and passenger traffic from the U.S. side of the border in Buffalo, New York, to the Canadian side of the border in Fort Erie, Ontario. From 2005 to 2007, the United States and Canada were engaged in negotiations to implement land preclearance at the Buffalo-Fort Erie Peace Bridge ports of entry. However, in April 2007, these negotiations were officially terminated by DHS. Section 566 of the 2008 DHS Appropriations Act mandates that we conduct a study on DHS's use of shared border management to secure the borders of the United States. In accordance with the mandate and discussions with Committee staff, this report addresses the following questions: (1) What negotiations have been conducted by the Department of Homeland Security regarding the shared border management pilot project? (2) What issues led to the termination of shared border management negotiations?

From 2005 to 2007, the United States and Canada were engaged in negotiations to implement a land preclearance pilot project (also referred to as "shared border management"), which would have relocated the U.S. border inspection facility from the Buffalo, New York, side of the Peace Bridge to the Fort Erie, Ontario, side. All CBP inspections and operations would then take place before travelers and cargo entered the United States. The Peace Bridge site was selected for the pilot because it is one of the busiest commercial crossings between the United States and Canada, yet the existing border infrastructure at the Peace Bridge contributes to a number of security and border crossing inefficiencies, according to DHS. Specifically, DHS had concluded that the U.S. inspection facility, which is located near the center of downtown Buffalo, is outdated, undersized, and lacks the modern amenities a port of its size should have to operate efficiently and securely. The facility is located on 17 acres of land, as opposed to the 80 acres that CBP recommends for a large port of entry. DHS has reported that additional inspection space is needed to address these infrastructure issues, but there is no easily available land adjacent to the facility in Buffalo. On the Canadian side of the Peace Bridge in Fort Erie, there are approximately 70 acres of land available on which the U.S. inspection facility could have been co-located with Canadian inspection facilities. In April 2007, DHS officially terminated negotiations with Canada because a mutually acceptable framework for United States-Canada shared border management could not be reached. Officials from both countries agreed that negotiations were conducted in good faith, and the two governments were able to reach accommodations on several key issues raised during the negotiations, such as the approval of all of the authorities Canada sought for its U.S.-based preclearance area, and the arming of CBP officers at the preclearance site on Canadian soil. However, certain issues pertaining to each country's sovereignty and the law enforcement authorities of U.S. CBP officers operating on Canadian soil could not be resolved. These issues included concerns over arrest authority; the right of individuals to withdraw an application to enter the United States while at the land preclearance site in Canada; mutually agreeable fingerprinting processes; how information collected by U.S. officials at the land preclearance site would be shared; and concerns that future interpretations of the Canadian Charter could adversely impact U.S. authorities at the preclearance site.

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