For individuals and businesses in the Buffalo Niagara region, nothing shows the yawning gap between the words and deeds of the Bush administration than its mind-blowing announcement on Sept. 1 that it is moving forward with its proposed passport initiative.
It seems President Bush misled newspaper editors last April when he told them the idea was virtually dead. "If people have to have a passport," he said then, "it's going to disrupt the honest flow of traffic."
Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., spoke too soon April 25 when he said the passports initiative was off the table. The senator said it after meeting with Homeland Security Secretary Michael D. Chertoff.
Who can blame Schumer for being beguiled by a man who later claimed he didn't know people were starving and dehydrated in New Orleans until he saw it on television?
Now the congressional delegation has to play catch-up. Schumer, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., and Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds, R-Clarence, support a bill to prohibit Chertoff's agency from spending any money on the passport gig, which would require passports for crossing the Canadian and Mexican borders by Dec. 31, 2007.
Rep. Brian M. Higgins, D-Buffalo, is circulating a "dear colleague" letter in the House opposing the passports move. Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, D-Fairport, alone in her opposition from the beginning, will get a Government Accountability Office study of the passport edict's cost. Reynolds calls the passport mandate "ridiculous."
As well-meant as these gestures are, they do not seem to rise to the utter hypocrisy of the whole passport idea, and to the dire economic and cultural consequences to our region by letting Chertoff manicure our border with Canada.
All their statements bow to the supposed need to impose more electronic screening on people crossing the Niagara River, as a measure to fight "terrorism." The congressional "anti-terrorism" mantra is a classic load in light of the porousness of the southern border. Millions of illegal Mexicans and Central Americans walked into the United States over the last decade.
The Bush administration encourages this flow of cheap labor. But in northern Virginia, local and state governments are paying dearly for the administration's generosity in health, education and other services for the 250,000 Latinos who have strolled here from the south. Virginia and Maryland taxpayers had to create employment centers for desperate illegals.
Worse, local police agencies are now pressed to fight a more menacing spawn of this southern border traffic: MS-13, shorthand for Mara Salvatrucha. This is a network of thousands of Central American gangsters, who use the machete as their instrument of discipline. They traffic in drugs, prostitution, gang rape, mutilation and murder.
For those still preoccupied with terrorists coming across the Peace Bridge, the office of Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., offers insight into the origins of folks caught trying to enter from the south.
In a nine-month stretch ending June 30, 2004, these were the origins of some of the "interdicts": Afghanistan, Algeria, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Syria -- 104 in all.
Will Adams, spokesman for Tancredo's Immigration Reform Caucus, said the rule of thumb is that three to five elude the southern border net for every person "interdicted." None of our delegation belongs to Tancredo's caucus that wants tougher enforcement on the southern border. They all should.
This whole business of passports, electronic eye-scans, hand prints and the like ought to be seen as the bureaucratic and procurement scam it is. To stop terrorists, hire more dedicated customs and border patrol officers.