The busy port of entry at International Falls and its inadequate infrastructure was the inception for a bill sponsored by U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar approved Tuesday by the U.S. Senate.
The Cross-Border Trade Enhancement Act of 2015 encourages public-private partnerships to improve border security and trade by making improvements at ports of entry along the U.S.-Canada border.
Klobuchar introduced the bill with Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. U.S. Rep Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, has introduced the House companion version of the legislation, which is also expected to pass next week. It will then go to the president’s desk, where it is expected to be signed into law.
“I am exited to talk about it,” Klobuchar told The Journal Wednesday. “The whole idea came from I Falls.”
The United States has 5,525 miles of border with Canada and 1,989 miles with Mexico. CBP provides security and facilitation operations at 328 main ports of entry throughout the U.S. Minnesota shares a 547-mile border with Canada.
Klobuchar serves as co-chair of the Canada-United States Inter Parliamentary Group, and has for years been working with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Canadian officials to improve security and efficiency at the northern border. Minnesota has 10 ports of entry along its border with Canada.
“This bill will allow the Department of Homeland Security to improve infrastructure and hire more border security agents at land ports of entry like the one in International Falls.” she said. “This bill will help make sure that we are doing everything we can to strengthen economic ties by improving safety and efficiency at the northern border.”
Every day nearly $2 billion of goods and 350,000 visitors pass back and forth through the nation’s ports, she said.
The bill will allow private entities, like railroads, airlines and trucking companies, to work in partnership with the government to help pay for upgrades at the ports that will make crossing the border more efficient while at the same time more secure, said Klobuchar.
The bill could also assist with improvements at airports that serve as ports of entry like the Falls International Airport and Duluth, she added.
While the businesses have their own interests in cutting wait times and making border crossings more efficient, their financial partnership would help alleviate the burden on taxpayers, she said.
In 2009, federal officials acknowledged the Falls port facility had grown inadequate due to increased inspection duties and staff numbers after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. A plan to construct a new facility on a site near the existing red-white-and-blue building was developed by the General Services Administration, but shelved in 2012 when no funding was approved by Congress.
The legislation approved Tuesday would expand the authority of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the GSA to enter into innovative partnerships with local governments and private sector entities. Partnerships with local governments and the private sector will support improvements to port of entry facilities and infrastructure and enhance processing and staffing at border crossings.
Those kinds of partnerships have been allowed in pilot projects on the southern U.S. border with Mexico, she said.
“If no private entity is interested, it won’t help,” she said. “But we have reason to believe there is interest by the northern border for investment.”
She said she’s heard interest in such partnerships by the travel industry.
The legislation would legally codify the CBP’s Donations Acceptance Program, which authorizes the agency to enter into public-private partnerships and accept donations from public and private sectors to help alleviate border wait times and some staffing challenges. The Donations Acceptance Program was approved as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014.
Meanwhile, the Cross-Border Trade Enhancement Act would work hand-in-hand with the Northern Border Security Review Act passed by the U.S. Senate in November and the U.S. House Tuesday. The security review requires the Department of Homeland Security to evaluate security threats and the additional resources needed to protect the northern border.
Klobuchar said she was involved in a briefing Tuesday from CBP officials about border issues.
To strengthen American security at the Northern Border, the Northern Border Security Review Act would require DHS to:
Examine recruiting and retaining border security officials to cover the Northern Border, including at more remote areas of the border;
Determine tools border security officials need to effectively combat drug and human trafficking at the Northern Border;
Identify technology that could expand the reach of border agents; and
Find vulnerabilities in cooperation between Canadian, state, county, local, and tribal law enforcement.