US Senator Schumer Hopes to Stop New Fee for Canadians Entering by Boat or Plane

We have learned that a bill that recently passed in the US Senate,  includes a provision that will allow Customs and Border Protection to charge Canadians who travel into the United States a new $5.50 fee.

Senator Charles E. Schumer is not happy about it, so the New York Democrat introduced a bill Tuesday that would stop Customs and Border Protection officials from collecting the fees. These new fees were authorized, without explanation or widespread notice, in recently passed legislation approving a free-trade deal with Colombia.

Customs and Border Protection officials have told Schumer that they would not charge the fee on ferry passengers, but Joanne M. Ferreira, an agency spokeswoman, said the fees for other boat passengers and airline travelers have been collected since Nov. 5.

The Colombia trade legislation does not give customs officials the right to charge a border fee on people entering the United States via passenger vehicles, Schumer said, but it was important for Congress to act now to prevent the fees from becoming a disincentive to boat and airplane travelers.

An article in the Buffalo news quoted Senator Schumer as saying, “The federal government might as well be putting up stop signs in every waterway and at every airport in New York”.

“These fees send the wrong message to Canadians looking to visit New York: Stop coming here for meetings that could lead to new businesses and jobs in New York, stop fishing in New York and buying bait and tackle here, stop visiting our cities and staying in our hotels, and stop eating in our restaurants.”

Congress passed legislation in the 1980s allowing the federal government to assess fees on those entering the United States from overseas, but 1997 legislation specifically exempted Canadians, Mexicans and residents of Caribbean nations from such charges.

All that changed, though, under the Colombia trade legislation.

“A provision is included in that measure which reinstates fee parity for all air and sea passengers entering the United States beginning Nov. 5,” Customs and Border Protection said in a statement. “Since 1997, inspection costs of air and sea passengers from Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean have been subsidized by fees collected from all other air and sea travelers to the United States, as well as by appropriated tax dollars.”

Schumer said it’s important to stop such fees because of their potential economic impact. Nearly 3 million people traveled from Canada to New York State in 2009, spending $920 million in the state, federal figures show.

The senator introduced his legislation to repeal the fees a week after Rep. Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh, introduced a similar measure in the House.

The fees have caused particular concern in the Thousand Islands region that Owens represents, where boaters cross the St. Lawrence River. “The problem with imposing these petty fees on Canadians visiting the U. S. by any means is that they create annoyance and bad will across the border,” said Garry Douglas, North Country Chamber of Commerce president.

Gord Brown, a member of the Canadian Parliament, said, “This fee will just discourage people in Canada from entering the United States.”

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