As cars flowed over the Peace Bridge into Buffalo on Tuesday, Rep. Chris Collins imagined how long the backups would be if everyone crossing had to undergo biometric screening.
But he said new international border legislation, revised with his input, will prevent that sort of traffic nightmare from occurring. The new bill requires a biometric entry and exit system to be built at all border crossings, but American and Canadian citizens would be exempted from those tests.
"I can support biometrics on the Southern border and on the Northern border, as long as we're excluding Canadian and U.S." citizens, Collins said after touring Peace Bridge operations on the Canadian and U.S. sides.
Such an exception was crucial to ensure traffic and commerce would flow freely, Collins said.
Ron Rienas, the Peace Bridge Authority general manager, agreed and said Collins has been "front and center" on the issue.
Collins "recognizes, as most people in this area do, that biometrics, be it a fingerprint or an iris scan, at the border would basically grind the border to a halt," Rienas said.
With a natural wonder in its backyard, the region also draws its share of international tourists, who would be subject to biometric scans. Rienas said those visitors are typically removed from the flow of bridge traffic and sent to secondary customs inspection already, so the tests would not extend wait times at the booths.
This is the second time this year that Collins has been involved in defusing a proposal that threatened to create huge disruptions at the border.
In January, President Trump proposed an executive order on immigration that would have required biometric tests – most likely fingerprint or iris scans – for everyone entering and exiting the United States. But after Collins protested to then-Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, Trump issued a revised executive order that scaled back the biometric screening requirement.
This time, Collins worked with the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Republican Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, to make sure that the new border security legislation exempted U.S. and Canadian citizens from biometric screening.
McCaul's bill, the Border Security for America Act, authorizes $5 billion in federal funding for infrastructure improvements – including the start of a wall at the U.S.-Mexican border – and increased border security staffing.
The bill authorizes funding to improve border crossings across the United States. It also calls for the hiring of an additional 5,000 border patrol agents and an additional 5,000 customs agents.
Collins also used his visit to the Peace Bridge to advocate for two changes in the way trucks pay for their entry to the United States, to make truck traffic flow efficiently.
One change would require empty trucks to file an "e-manifest," something already required of other trucks crossing the bridge. Without an e-manifest, Customs and Border Protection officers have to manually process data for those trucks, adding an estimated 75 seconds per truck.
"When they don't have it, the amount of time to clear those trucks is extended," Collins said. "That's where we get our backups."
The other change would eliminate the option for trucks to pay their entry fee with cash or credit card, and require them to pay by transponder or pre-payment.
"They say 22 trucks on the bridge stops the bridge traffic," Collins said. "We've got to keep those trucks moving."