Montana’s Republican representatives in Washington, D.C. are pushing for U.S. Customs and Border Protection to share resources with Canada to maintain current hours of operation at four ports of entry along the Hi Line.
Republican Senator Steve Daines and Congressman Greg Gianforte said Friday CBP should stand up a pilot program that would allow U.S. border officials to work more closely with the Canadian Border Services Agency under an agreement both countries have already passed.
"We believe these ports along the Montana-Saskatchewan border are very good places to begin pilots and implementation of what has already been agreed to by our respective governments," Daines said.
The call comes after CBP announced in March it plans to cut hours at the Port of Raymond, currently the only 24-hour border crossing in eastern Montana, and scale back hours at Scobey, Opheim and Morgan to so-called “banking hours.” The agency says the amount of traffic doesn’t support current hours and reducing hours could save $180,000 in overtime costs.
The proposal has drawn push back from local government officials, truckers, farmers, ranchers and area businesses on both sides of the border. Democratic Senator Jon Tester has also urged CBP to maintain current port hours.
On a press call Friday debriefing a listening session Daines and Gianforte hosted in Glasgow Thursday, Gianforte said CBP has authority under the U.S.-Canada Agreement on Land, Rail, Marine, and Air Transport Preclearance to share facilities and resources with Canada.
"This agreement would allow a remote crossing possibly during off hours to have one Canadian, one U.S. officer working in the same building so they can ensure each other's security and still keep the port open. That's what the Canadians proposed," Gianforte said. "I think it's a common sense solution."
Daniel Escobedo is the Sweetgrass Area Port director for CBP. He says establishing a pilot program like what Gianforte supports holds potential but it would be a long process sorting through legal requirements and wouldn’t solve staffing issues.
"Even under the agreements, the agency would still need the same number of employees to work at these ports of entry that they do now," Escobedo says. "This type of agreement doesn't reduce the staffing resources that we need to process people and goods that enter and exit the United States, but it does reduce the building space and some of the equipment that two countries could share."
A preclearance pilot project in upstate New York and southern Ontario was declared a success in 2015 and has since been expanded into a permanent program that’s expected to ease traffic congestion at one of the busiest bridge crossings between the U.S. and Canada.
esday. Escobedo says it will release its final decision prior to June 1.
CBP will host four town hall meetings this and next week:
- Opheim: Friday, May 3, 2019, at 5:00pm at the Glasgow Senior Citizen Center
- Morgan: Saturday, May 4, 2019, at 2:00pm in Malta at the Great Northern Hotel
- Scobey: Monday, May 6, 2019, at 5:00pm in Scobey at the Richardson Theater
- Raymond: Tuesday, May 7, 2019, at 5:00pm in Plentywood at the Sheridan County Civic Center
Questions and comments for CBP can be sent to OFOFEEDBACKMT@cbp.dhs.gov.