WASHINGTON – Sen. Charles E. Schumer on Wednesday interrupted all the acrimony over the future of the Peace Bridge with a legislative proposal that could end up permanently shifting preliminary inspections of cargo bound for the U.S. to the Canadian side of the bridge.
The legislation, which Schumer hopes to add as an amendment to the mammoth immigration bill that’s under consideration in the Senate, would make permanent an 18-month pilot project set to start at the Peace Bridge later this year – so long as the pilot project succeeds in shortening wait times without compromising safety.
Schumer’s proposal also seemed to be aimed at cutting through the dispute between Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the Canadian government over how the Peace Bridge is governed.
“This just goes to show that despite all the problems with the Peace Bridge Authority, shared border management continues to steam ahead,” Schumer, D-N.Y, said in a brief interview.
Moving the preliminary cargo inspections to the Canadian side of the Peace Bridge has been a top priority of Schumer’s for years. He and other lawmakers have long said the move makes sense because the truck plaza on the Canadian side of the bridge is much bigger than the one in Buffalo.
That move had long been stalled by Canada’s refusal to let U.S. border agents carry weapons in Fort Erie, Ont., but Canada reversed course in March when it signed a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. on cross-border inspection pilot projects at the Peace Bridge and at a border crossing between Blaine, Wash., and Surrey, B.C.
Schumer termed that agreement a “single,” whereas his legislation making the shared border plan permanent is a “home run.”
“This will mean that shared border management will stay there (at the Peace Bridge) forever,” Schumer said, provided that it works and that the Canadians agree to continue the program.
While Schumer’s legislation is not necessary before the pilot projects are to begin late this year, it would permanently codify that U.S. agents can carry weapons into another country and vice versa by mutual agreement.
Schumer said he didn’t expect the amendment to be controversial, but the bill he hopes to pair it with most certainly is.
While the Senate is expected to pass its version of immigration reform later this year, the measure’s future is murky, at best, in the Republican-controlled House.
Schumer said he chose to add his border proposal to the immigration bill because the two measures touch on related topics, and the immigration bill “is the next train coming out of the station” in the Senate.
If the immigration bill fails, Schumer vowed to work to find another legislative vehicle to get the measure into law, making sure to get it passed before the end of the 18-month demonstration project.
Schumer’s introduction of the measure came a day after Gary Doer, the Canadian ambassador to the U.S., ended speculation that the controversy over the future of the Peace Bridge Authority could somehow derail the pre-inspection project at the Peace Bridge.
“This flows from an agreement between the president and the prime minister,” he told The Buffalo News. “That’s not in danger. We will proceed with the pre-inspection exercise.”
The Canadian Parliament must pass legislation ratifying the plan to allow U.S. agents to carry weapons in Canada. And while Canadian officials failed to respond to questions about that legislation on Wednesday, Schumer said that under Canada’s parliamentary system, eventual passage of such legislation is likely.
Schumer’s proposal comes a week after the State Legislature passed a bill that would disband the Peace Bridge Authority in about a year. Canada has objected strenuously to that legislation, with Doer and others saying the binational authority can only be dissolved with the consent of the U.S. and Canadian governments.