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Legislation to require biometric scans would create a border crossing nightmare

Thanks, perhaps, to Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence, the country now has a breather before the House attempts to pass one of the most destructive pieces of legislation ever to afflict the economies of American border states.

Border control has become so towering an issue for the Republican-controlled House that it was on the verge last week of passing legislation requiring biometric testing for all travelers leaving the United States. As virtually anyone who knows anything has said, the measure would create massive backups at border crossings, devastating tourism and commerce on both sides of the border.

In Buffalo, everyone from merchants and shopping malls to hotels and the Buffalo Bills would pay a heavy price – and for no reason than to scratch an itch that has already been treated.

Biometric inspection would require the government to take fingerprints from or perform iris scans on everyone in every vehicle leaving the country. Especially in a space-challenged area like the Peace Bridge crossing, that would create huge backups and ensuing traffic hazards.

Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, called it “a job-killing bill” and predicted people would simply stop crossing the border. It’s an obvious and predictable effect of this ill-conceived legislation.

House leaders pulled the bill back at the last moment, in the face of near-universal opposition and after Collins introduced an amendment requiring a demonstration project at three border crossings to show that it would not create the epic backups that are predicted by critics.

Those opponents span a broad base of informed experts, including Higgins; Dottie Gallagher-Cohen, president and CEO of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership; and Ron Rienas, general manager of the Peace Bridge Authority, who said the measure “would absolutely shut down the border.”

Further, and incredibly, the purpose of the measure is already covered by the Beyond the Border agreement between the United States and Canada. In fact, the House bill appears to flatly subvert the agreement’s goal of making the border crossing between the two countries easier to negotiate, not harder.

Christine Constantin, spokeswoman for the Canadian embassy in Washington, noted that Beyond the Border already allows the two countries “to exchange biographical information on the entry of travelers, including citizens, permanent residents and third-country nationals.” It would legally allow use of a record of entry into one country as a record of an exit from the other.

So, what’s the point of the proposed legislation? Supporters of the measure say it will help identify visitors who entered the country legally but who overstay their visas. Perhaps it would have the effect, but at a terrible cost. After decades of decline, Buffalo is finally coming back. This legislation would throttle the area’s momentum.

The expectation is that this bill will come back again, perhaps within two or three weeks. Beyond his helpful effort to weaken the bill, Collins should also make a point of explaining to his colleagues why the bill is both unnecessary and harmful to the economy of every region on the country’s northern border.

Other opponents, including business and political leaders, also need to make a clear case to the Senate and the Obama administration about the pointlessness of this legislation. They are the next defenses against what could yet be the irresponsible action of the House.

Border security is obviously important, but it can be achieved without killing the economies of America’s border regions and without focusing on a problem that has already been dealt with.