GOP lawmakers are announcing Thursday legislation to force the Department of Homeland Security to restore northern border crossings to the hours they had before the government shuttered them for the pandemic.
The bill comes after Customs and Border Protection announced it would keep shortened hours at several ports of entry, saying a recent 120-day test found there just isn’t enough traffic to return to the old schedule.
The Republican lawmakers, led by Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho, said Canada has returned its crossings to pre-pandemic hours, but the U.S. remains a holdout.
That leaves situations in which someone can enter Canada from the U.S. 24 hours a day, but the American side shuts down at 10 p.m. and doesn’t reopen until 6 a.m. Other ports close in the afternoon on the U.S. side, while the Canadian side is open into the night.
“CBP’s failure to operate America’s northern ports at pre-pandemic hours is detrimental to North Idaho’s economy and way of life,” said Mr. Risch. “My legislation would return northern ports to at minimum pre-pandemic hours and allow Idahoans to once again access vital commerce, tourism, trade, travel, and more.”
He was joined in the legislation by other northern border Republicans, including Sens. Mike Crapo of Idaho, John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer of North Dakota and Steve Daines of Montana, and Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, Russ Fulcher of Idaho, Ryan Zinke of Montana and Kelly Armstrong of North Dakota.
Mr. Armstrong, the lead House sponsor, said farmers, in particular, will suffer from the limited hours, which will make it tougher for them to schedule business.
“It’s important to many North Dakotans and our state’s economy that ports of entry with Canada are accessible,” he said.
CBP tested post-pandemic expanded hours at six border crossings earlier this year.
On Wednesday, it said it is keeping the longer hours at three crossings while going back to the shorter hours at the other three.
That’s still not necessarily enough to match the Canadians’ hours, according to the lawmakers.
Even under the expanded hours, the Porthill crossing into Idaho is only open 12 hours a day. But travelers can go back through Canada’s Rykerts crossing 16 hours a day.
The lawmakers had hoped that President Biden’s move to end the pandemic emergency in May would lead to a full restoration.
Residents have complained that the shortened hours make their businesses, such as restaurants, less attractive to Canadian customers.
CBP defended its decision-making in announcing its plans Wednesday.
“For several years, CBP has documented a reduction in privately-owned vehicle and pedestrian traffic at some POEs along its northern border with some ports having permanently reduced operational hours prior to 2019,” the agency said. “As part of CBP’s obligation to use its resources responsibly and most efficiently, continual evaluations of workload, staffing, operating costs, and traffic volumes were performed to align operating hours that reflect traffic patterns and place employees where they can be most useful.”
The agency insisted it is working with “congressional stakeholders” on the decisions.
“These efforts enable CBP to better align staffing during peak hours, which in turn, allows CBP to better serve the public and protect our country,” the agency said.
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