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10-13-2007, 13:28 #1
Tight border raises concerns for businesses
Tight border raises concerns for businesses
By Wilson Ring
The Associated Press
October 11, 2007
NEWPORT -- Stiffer identification requirements for people entering the United States from Canada are hurting Vermont businesses, and the fallout is likely to become worse if Department of Homeland Security plans are implemented as scheduled, a U.S. Senate panel was told Wednesday.
At a field hearing of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, Jay Peak ski resort president Bill Stenger told Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., that Montreal radio stations sometimes report the time it takes to cross the border, which can discourage travel and hurt U.S. businesses.
"There is damage being done right now," Stenger told Leahy, who held a formal committee field hearing in Newport, along the southern shore of Lake Memphremagog.
About half of Jay Peak's ski business comes from Canadians, and they are accustomed to being able to cross the border with a minimum of formalities or delays, he said.
"This vibrancy can be lost in a very short time if crossing into Vermont becomes expensive, unpredictable, time-consuming and an unfriendly process," Stenger said.
"If they are blocked at the border with inefficient crossing restrictions and technology that is untested in (a) winter environment, those Canadians will stay home, where they can get swift access to their resorts," he said.
Under current Department of Homeland Security plans, travelers entering the United States by land from Canada and Mexico will be required to use passports or other, still-to-be-designed travel documents beginning in the summer.
Leahy has proposed delaying until mid-2009 the requirement that all people entering the United States have a passport or other travel document, but the Department of Homeland Security is sticking with its mid-2008 timetable.
Leahy said Wednesday that those plans would damage the economy of Vermont and other border states -- without improving U.S. security.
Last month, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Gov. Jim Douglas signed an agreement that would allow Vermont to develop an enhanced driver's license to be used instead of a passport at border crossings.
"I am afraid that this administration's current policies threaten to fray the social fabric of countless communities that straddle the border," Leahy said.
Stenger and others said homeland security was a legitimate concern, but said it has to be achieved without devastating the economy.
Bruce Hyde, Vermont Travel and Tourism commissioner, said Canadians make up about two-thirds of out-of-state day visits to Vermont, and that they spend about $350,000 per day altogether. He said fewer than 40 percent of Canadians have passports.
"This is a significant expense for many families and most certainly is a deciding factor when Canadians plan a vacation or trip," Hyde said.
Stenger and others at Wednesday's hearing said no effort was being made to work with Canadian officials so similar, nonpassport documents could be used by Canadian citizens.
"DHS thinks exclusively about security and I respect that, but someone needs to go beyond just security and recognize that the lives and livelihood of tens of thousands of Americans will be sharply and negatively impacted if the economic well-being of the border communities is not taken into consideration," Stenger said. "We can't afford to miss getting this right the first time."
Leahy said the testimony he took at the hearing will be used to help shape the debate about Canadian border issues in Congress."Good, Our First Catch of the Day." SW:V ESB
10-13-2007, 13:48 #2Kelly8280 Guest
Damned if you, damned if you don't.
10-13-2007, 15:02 #3
Obviously the good senator from Vermont is undoubtedly 100% correct and we are unnecessarily, inconveniencing the Canadiens, for there is no threat from anyone within our northern neighbors borders.
Ressam was born in Algeria. He entered Canada in 1994 with a forged French passport. When immigration officials at the Montreal airport questioned him, he applied for political asylum, claiming persecution in Algeria. After settling in Montreal, he became a small-time criminal. At some point, he was recruited into al-Qaeda. After not attending his hearing for political asylum, his application for refugee status was denied and a warrant issued for his arrest. He evaded deportation by obtaining a passport using a false name, "Benni Noris." Ressam used the passport to travel to the Khalden training camp in Afghanistan in 1998.
He left Afghanistan in early 1999 carrying the precursors for making explosives and planning to attack a United States airport or embassy. He returned to Canada, and continued making bomb materials and false papers. He made the decision to attack LAX as part of the 2000 millennium attack plots.
On December 14, 1999, Ressam boarded the M/V Coho at Vancouver Island and crossed the border at the Port Angeles, Washington ferry landing. Upon noticing that he appeared nervous, customs officers inspected him more closely and asked for further identification. Ressam panicked and attempted to flee. Customs officials then found nitroglycerin and four timing devices concealed in a spare tire well of his rented car. He was arrested by customs, and investigated by the FBI.It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both. - Niccolo Machiavelli
Most people respect the badge, everybody respects the gun.
I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it. - Colonel Jessup
10-13-2007, 15:54 #4Rookie
- Join Date
- Feb 2005
- New York
If Jay Peak goes out of business, it could knock the US economy into a recession!!! sucks to be them I guess. Maybe they can rely on the hydro trade in northern VT to sustain them.
10-13-2007, 19:25 #5
Companion article of the first article.
Homeland workers speak out against threats to security
Thursday, 11 October 2007
Long hours, loss of experience, privatization among complaints
ST. ALBANS CITY Ã¢â‚¬â€ U.S. Sen. Senator Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., and local Department of Homeland Security employees Wednesday night took the lid off of simmering federal workersÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ discontent and fears about border security in Vermont.
Addressing a packed house at the St. Albans Historical Museum, Sanders opened the meeting with a statement that explained the reason for the session and set the tone for the evening: Ã¢â‚¬Å“Morale in Homeland Security is not the highest in the country.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Sanders brought with him a panel of officials from local and national unions Ã¢â‚¬â€œ including frontline customs and border officers -- representing Homeland Security employees.
Attendees raised multiple issues including the threat of privatization, understaffing, inadequate training, and the loss of experienced staff. Many of these issues are interconnected and pose dire consequences locally, said policy critics.
Invited speakers and attendees repeatedly described a situation at the border in which employees are working 60 to 70 hours a week as a result of understaffing. Understaffing also means less time for training, they said.
Long hours, including customs inspectors who work double shifts, go home for eight hours, and then return to work, impact workersÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ health, and their ability to do their jobs, according to Cris Buckles, a National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) officer who works at Derby Line.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“We canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t do our best if weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re beaten down every time,Ã¢â‚¬Â said Buckles.
Many of those present expressed concern not only for their own quality of work, but for the safety of American citizens.
Glen Dockham, president of NTEU Chapter 142, and a Vetting Center Officer, described how when he started work as a customs inspector at Highgate Springs in 1997 everyone had 10 to 15 years of experience. Now many of those experienced people have been lost, leaving new hires no one to turn to with questions, he said.
Dockham also expressed frustration with how the border security operation is being run. Behavior analysis has been replaced with computer checks and mandated questions, according to Dockham. The same trucker can cross the border 10 times in one shift and he must be looked up in the computer each time.
Joining other speakers in expressing frustration over staffing, Dockham said, Ã¢â‚¬Å“If we have proper staffing, we can find a balance between legitimate trade and protecting our country.Ã¢â‚¬Â
In September 2003, the Department of Homeland Security began a Ã¢â‚¬Å“one face at the borderÃ¢â‚¬Â initiative combining previously specialized positions in immigration, customs and agriculture.
Dave Souter, who works at Highgate Springs, described the loss of trained immigration staff at the port. In 2003 when customs and immigration were combined, one-third of the Highgate staff was from immigration. Eight officers are leaving this year, and with the loss of those officers only 10 percent of the inspectors at Highgate will be legacy INS staff.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Immigration law is large and complex,Ã¢â‚¬Â Souter said. INS inspectors used to receive advanced training in immigration law. That no longer happens, according to Souter.
Workers also are concerned about the loss of their jobs to private firms. Office of Management and Budget Circular A-76, issued in May 2003, sets out guidelines for privatizing federal government jobs.
Karyn Dubie is director of the Eastern Forms Center in Williston, which has undergone an A-76 review. She described a situation in which information was gathered in secrecy, creating an environment of uncertainty and fear.
The process, in which federal employees are allowed to Ã¢â‚¬Å“competeÃ¢â‚¬Â for their jobs against private companies, took more than a month of DubieÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s time, she said. Other employees spent similar amounts of time on the process. Workers have still not been informed of the results, it was announced last night.
One attendee, who did not give his name, stated, Ã¢â‚¬Å“A-76 is not about the rank and file. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s about the president being able to stand up and say, Ã¢â‚¬ËœI cut federal jobs.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ We see how the SCOT people are treated. TheyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re treated like dirt.Ã¢â‚¬Â His remarks were met with widespread applause.
Sanders agreed, saying The Bush administration Ã¢â‚¬Å“has an ideology in which unions are bad and corporations are good.Ã¢â‚¬Â The administration has publicly stated a desire to cut the federal work force by 50 percent Sanders said, adding, Ã¢â‚¬Å“WeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re gonna stop them.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Christy, who only offered her first name, does clerical work for DHS. She expressed concern about security issues created by privatization. With work being re-bid every few years, more people will acquire security codes and knowledge of systems and information that should be private and secure, she said.
Acknowledging her point, Sanders reiterated his position that the country is best served by a well-paid, well-trained, dedicated civil service.
Privatization means lower salaries and fewer benefits, Sanders said, and that has a negative impact on the entire workforce, encouraging a downward spiral with lower wages and benefits for all workers. Ã¢â‚¬Å“The work you do,Ã¢â‚¬Â Sanders told the audience Ã¢â‚¬Å“should only be done by highly-trained public employees.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Michael Kiey, adjudication officer with the Vermont Service Center and vice president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 2076, talked about the impact even the threat of privatization and job loss has on employees.
Every day someone comes into his office worried about losing his or her job, he said. Fearing for their jobs, employees are reducing their spending and that has an impact on the whole community, according to Kiey.
A man from the Law Enforcement Support Center in Williston stated, Ã¢â‚¬Å“We are only here because of the mission,Ã¢â‚¬Â a sentiment shared by others who expressed concern about DHS employeesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ ability to do their jobs well under current conditions. Ã¢â‚¬Å“If any officer misses that one person, it affects the United States,Ã¢â‚¬Â Buckles said.
Sen. Sanders message for those in the room was two-fold. Ã¢â‚¬Å“DonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t let anyone tell you for one second that the work you are doing is not important,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said, adding, Ã¢â‚¬Å“Hang in there. We are trying to turn this around.Ã¢â‚¬Â"Good, Our First Catch of the Day." SW:V ESB