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Slaughter predicts passport failure 'No way' deadline of Jan. 1 can be met

The Bush administration's proposed requirement for passports to cross the U.S. border from Canada will not meet a Jan. 1 deadline and may never be implemented by a new administration, Rep. Louise M. Slaughter predicted Monday in Buffalo.

The Fairport Democrat called the idea "one of the biggest mistakes I think they've made -- among many" and said there is "no way" the Department of Homeland Security can meet a Jan. 1 target when it hasn't even determined whether it will require passports or ultimately settle on some other form of identification.

"They keep insisting it will be in January, but we don't see that," she said during a meeting with The Buffalo News editorial board.

Slaughter explained that despite Homeland Security's preference for passports for anyone attempting to enter the country from Canada, even that has not been determined. And for whatever documentation is chosen, she said, border stations are nowhere near having the right equipment to electronically scan it.

In addition, Slaughter said congressional legislation will require the Government Accountability Office to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of the requirement with a pilot program in Washington State.

"Once they've decided, there must be an economic impact study on the $1.5 billion in trade each day that crosses the Canadian border," she said, estimating the need for six to eight months of work.

The unstated goal, she said, is to delay the implementation of the idea until a new administration takes office in 2009.

Slaughter said no Democratic presidential candidate has yet thoroughly addressed the issue, but she said even the White House seems to be driven by the passport leanings of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

"They think everyone comes over on a bridge, when we all know you can rowboat across or swim across," she said, adding that some identification process will ultimately be required. Her goal, she said, is to come up with a process that will not hurt the U.S.-Canada economy as much as the requirement for passports.

The congresswoman also stopped by Buffalo Police Headquarters to join Mayor Byron W. Brown and Police Commissioner H. McCarthy Gipson to trumpet reauthorization of the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program, which is expected to fund a significant number of new Buffalo police officers.

"Over the last 10 years, this program has allowed local law enforcement agencies to hire 117,000 additional police officers, which helped to significantly reduce crime across the country," she said. "Our home State of New York received nearly $1 billion in COPS hiring grants over those years, which enabled our state to hire over 11,000 additional police officers."

A similar plan championed by the Clinton administration in 1994 channeled almost $18 million to the City of Buffalo and resulted in the hiring of 223 new officers, while other local municipalities also benefited.

But the bill's funding gradually decreased until it expired in 2005. Slaughter said the bill has now passed the House of Representatives, will soon be addressed by the Senate and is expected to be signed by President Bush.

"This is a new Congress with new priorities," she said.

e-mail: rmccarthy@buffnews.com

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