Of the flurry of controversial orders issued by Donald Trump in the last several days, one stands out as potentially crippling to Western New York: his idea of requiring biometric checks for anyone entering or leaving the United States. There is no need for a program that is so needlessly intrusive and so devastating to the region’s economy.
It may not be a serious proposal, but Ron Rienas, the general manager of the Peace Bridge Authority, understands the threat. Biometric checks – such as fingerprints or iris scans – would create overwhelming backups at the Canadian border, he said. That could wreck the economy on both sides of the Niagara River.
To his credit, Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence, a close ally of Trump, broke with the president on the issue Thursday. In a letter to the secretary of Homeland Security, Collins said the scans “would significantly delay the daily commutes of hard-working Americans and Canadians and cause undue burdens on trade.”
Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, believes that Trump’s threat was nothing more than another presidential eruption and notes that even if the president were to push such a program, Congress would never fund it.
Many Buffalo institutions depend on Canadian traffic to make their business plans work: from individual stores and shopping malls to Shea’s Performing Arts Center and the Buffalo Bills and Sabres. The same is true in Canada, where the exchange rate is advantageous to American shoppers.
It would be one thing if the need to stop dangerous people at the border were so urgent, but there is no evidence of that and, even then, there is only so much an open society can or should do, especially when the costs of any putatively protective policy outweigh the benefits.
It’s not hard to understand the consequences. Look at the Peace Bridge on any busy day and imagine the consequences if each vehicle required significantly more time to clear the border than is now required. Who would come to shop or eat in Western New York, knowing that level of intrusion and inconvenience awaited? What Americans would visit Toronto or Niagara-on-the-Lake if returning home was a guaranteed headache?
We have been spooked by 9/11, the bestiality of ISIS and the actions of a few terrorists within our borders. Plainly, there is a risk to Americans, but it is one that requires an appropriate response – effective and scaled to the threat. Wrecking the economies of American border cities fails that test.