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Washington Hearing Focuses on Controversial Passport Plan

By Benjamin Shaw

Washington, DC – A hearing was held before a House subcommittee Thursday on a controversial proposal that would adversely affect cross-border traffic at the region's four international bridges.

In September, the Departments of Homeland Security and State proposed a plan requiring all U.S. citizens have a passport or other secure document to re-enter the country. The plan would become effective in 2008.

Fairport Democratic Representative Louise Slaughter says it will reduce tourism and increase the cost of doing cross-border business.

"It will have an absolutely devastating effect on the eco futures of our border communities especially the communities that I represent: Buffalo, Niagara Falls and Rochester," Slaughter said.

"We have already seen in Buffalo and Western New York a drop off in business between our two countries at that border," said Buffalo Democratic Congressman Brian Higgins.

He says the problems of security must be addressed without imposing economic barriers.

Slaughter has asked the administration to conduct a study into what the plan would cost the country.

Howard Zemsky, a board member at the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, says if passports are required for border crossings -- small, local businesses will bear the brunt.

"It would serve us all well to be patient and collaborative so we don't turn the war on terrorism into the war on tourism," Zemsky said.

Proponents of the plan, says only a passport can provide sufficient security against terrorists. But Slaughter urged the Homeland Security Department to expand programs - such as Nexus and Fast Card - that ease travel for pre-approved citizens.