A Canadian diplomat said Saturday that he welcomed news that the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service would back off on plans for a pilot project to question Canadian tourists on their way home by car.
An Immigration Service spokeswoman said the agency has no plans to test such an interrogation program in the coming year at the Thousand Islands Bridge over the St. Lawrence Seaway.
Mark Romoff, Canadian consul general in Buffalo, also praised local congressmen for their efforts to curb the requirements in a new law that he said would disrupt tourism and trade.
"These are modest advances," Romoff said.
Canadian officials and local lawmakers want Canadians exempted entirely from the law.
"I don't think there is justification for a middle ground," Romoff said.
Under the pilot program, immigration agents would have quizzed Canadian tourists at the Thousand Islands Bridge in the coming year to ensure that all visitors go home.
Romoff, who addressed the Western New York chapter of the Fulbright Association at Buffalo State College, called on Congress to rethink the immigration law.
Under the U.S. Immigration Reform law, Canadians leaving the United States to go home will have to present credentials to American agents at all border crossings, starting next Sept. 30. The documentation requirement is part of Congress' attempt to crack down on illegal immigration.
The policy conflicts with the decades-old practice of not requiring Canadians to present a passports, visas or border-crossing identification cards at the border. Canadian diplomats warn the new policy would tie up traffic for hours at border crossings. More than 116 million people crossed into the United States from Canada last year, and more than $1 billion in goods and services crosses the border daily.
Checking documents at border crossings would hurt manufacturers that rely on just-in-time delivery for parts, Romoff said.
"This legislation will guarantee that just-in-time delivery will not be possible," he said.
The border-crossing controversy is an example of why the neighboring countries should pay more attention to their relationship, said Victor Konrad, executive director of the Canada-U.S. Fulbright Program. The program pays for professors, students and scholars on both sides of the border to travel and study in the neighboring country.
"These flash points are not going to go away," said Konrad, a dual citizen who lives in Ottawa. "It's an example of how neighbors forget the importance of a relationship. This is going to result in massive inconveniences for people on both sides of the border."