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GOOD GAME OF HARDBALL

House members from Northern border states are threatening to block a major budget bill unless Congress repeals the foolish border-checkpoint law. Because this misguided measure will snarl traffic and trade here, the congressmen are more than justified in taking such action.

Drastic problems demand drastic measures, and the problems that would be caused on the Niagara Frontier by this knee-jerk reaction to illegal immigration on the Mexican border certainly would be drastic. They also would be unnecessary.

The problems that Southern lawmakers cite -- illegal immigration and drug smuggling -- are relatively minor on our border. Mexican sensibilities notwithstanding, legislative solutions should be targeted to areas where problems exist. They shouldn't create new problems in one region to attack old ones someplace else.

Yet that is what Congress did when it passed an immigration measure known as Section 110. The provision would require U.S. immigration agents to put Canadian visitors through the third degree when they try to return home across border bridges.

The measure, being defended by Texas Republican Lamar Smith, who chairs the House Immigration Subcommittee, would force long delays here and elsewhere on the Northern border to deal with non-existent problems.

Smith cautions against "inciting fear" about the issue. Yet that's exactly what he and other supporters are doing in order to justify a measure that would create massive traffic backlogs. Those delays would virtually wipe out the concept of a friendly, open border here, while seriously damaging the cross-border trade and tourism that benefits both sides of the international Niagara region.

The measure's implementation already was postponed until 2001 after it became clear Congress had not thought through all of the ramifications of a measure critics say was inserted in a conference committee without any real scrutiny by most members. But postponement only puts off problems that needn't occur in the first place.

The real answer is to repeal Section 110. That's what 14 fed-up Republicans -- including Hamburg's Jack Quinn and Corning's Amo Houghton -- are pushing for with a letter warning House leaders that they won't support a $35 billion budget bill funding several federal agencies unless this measure is killed.

Threatening an entire bill over one provision is a severe tactic and one that should not be employed lightly. It obviously could lead to gridlock if used whenever some small faction can't get its way.

But this is not some small, pork-barrel dispute. Section 110 would affect traffic, trade and tourism all along the Northern border. Its economic consequences could be immense, even with technology that speeds some people through border checks. Those lucky few will never even get close to the border if Section 110 backs up traffic on the bridges while Canadians get treated like they're guilty until proven innocent.

Congress must kill Section 110 and find a more fitting way of dealing with immigration problems in the South and Southwest. It's an issue with widespread ramifications, and one that justifies the hard line taken by members from here and other Northern border states whose residents and economies would be hurt because of problems somewhere else.

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