Port Huron Times-Herald: Peters' bill targets oversight at ports of entry like the Blue Water Bridge
One of Michigan’s two senators in Washington co-authored a measure aimed at installing more oversight at the nation’s ports of entry.
And that’s something that, Sen. Gary Peters said, means a lot to crossings like the Blue Water Bridge.
A bill that requires Homeland Security submit regular analyses — dubbed the U.S. Ports of Entry Threat and Operational Review Act — was introduced last July and passed the Senate in December. It was presented to the president as of Dec. 21 — amidst a shift in border security talks more heavily toward appropriating funds for the Mexican border wall and subsequent government shutdown.
But Peters, a Democrat who wrote the act with Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, said the intention behind the act was much simpler.
“My experience has been we focus a great deal on that southern (border),” he said. “… The important thing, and especially now that I’m the ranking member on the homeland security committee, is we’ve got to balance the needs of our border security and understand a great deal of how commerce (moves).”
The Ambassador and Blue Water bridges in Detroit and Port Huron make up two of the five busiest port crossings in North America.
Just in Port Huron, the Michigan Department of Transportation also cites the value of goods crossing the bridge in the tens of billions of dollars annually or in the tens of millions per day several years ago.
And Peters said he thought “the whole country needs to pay particular attention” to them.
Under the act, the secretary of Homeland Security would have to submit analyses, including:
- Current and potential threats posed by individuals and organized groups
- Methods and pathways used to exploit security vulnerabilities at ports of entry
- Improvements need to prevent “unlawful movement of people, illicit drugs and other contraband,” as well as to enhance travel and trade facilitation and reduce wait times
- Evaluation of other needs, such as in personnel, technology and infrastructure and their costs
Once the act is enacted, the department would have six months to submit a threat and operational analysis to several committees with both the Senate and U.S. House of Representatives.
Homeland Security would then have nine months to provide a strategy and implementation plan once the analysis is submitted and every five years thereafter for a decade.
Although it is meant to expose potential weaknesses at ports of entry, Peters said it could also share methods of best practice in managing operations at the local level.
St. Clair County Sheriff Tim Donnellon, who was among the officials to submit a statement lauding the act late last year, said they’ll take all the help they can get.
For local authorities, he said it’s about partnerships.
“It gives you a chance to review where your weak spots are. It’s no different than doing research on where we have accidents,” Donnellon said, adding it’d help them ask, “Do we need more enforcement?”
An example, he said, was click-or-ticket patrols on 24th Avenue. “Anything we can do to put information out on a table of stakeholders,” he said.
“It’s all helpful. Data is fundamental when it comes to law enforcement.”
There are other ports of entry besides the Blue Water Bridge.
The Walpole-Algonac ferry line connects residents between the local city and Walpole Island, Ontario, as well as the Bluewater Ferry between Marine City and Sombra, Ontario, which is currently closed a year after an ice jam ripped up its causeway.
St. Clair County International Airport has been a port since the 1950s and has been a transatlantic port of entry since 2003, and an aircraft can clear U.S. Customs 24 hours a day all week. Airport Director Kathy Reaume didn't immediately return a call for comment as of Friday afternoon.
Donnellon said St. Clair County is the largest international border county in the state, stretching from Lakeport to Fair Haven.
He cited the sheriff’s department’s contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which allows them to house illegal detainees for a profit at the county jail, as an example of their federal partnerships. Currently, they also have two Border Patrol agents and one Customs agent in the county’s drug task force.
“We have got a mammoth amount of area to cover and be responsible for and that’s where these partnerships pay it forward for us,” Donnellon said. “Are there things that we would like to know of ahead of time? I’m sure there are.”
“The problem is you don’t know the ones you don’t get,” he said.
By: Jackie Smith
Source: Port Huron Times-Herald
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