Despite a reprieve of sorts, U.S. legislation is brewing in the House of Representatives that could cause havoc in truck shipments between the United States and Canada.
The House voted 326-90 on Nov. 10 to delay Section 110 of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act. The section would require border checks of all visitors to the United States. In the House version, the rule would have gone into effect September 1998, if passed, but the House voted to push back the time frame until September 1999. The U.S. Senate has not taken up a related bill.
Section 110 critics charge such checks would cause huge lineups that would delay truck traffic at crossings in Michigan, New York, Maine and other Northern states. Government officials estimate more than $1 billion of goods and services flow across the U.S.-Canada border each day.
The auto parts sector would be one of the hardest-hit industries, officials predict.
``It is a major worry for us,'' said Ken MacDonald, director of government policy for the Toronto-based Automotive Parts Manufacturers' Association. ``The amount of time to get across the border would play havoc with just-in-time schedules.''
APMA members sometimes need to ship parts across the border in as little as 11/2 hours from plant to plant. Observers predict hours-long delays at border crossings if Section 110 is implemented in its current form.
``We're anxious to have [Section 110] wording revisited and rethought,'' MacDonald said.
One APMA member, Magna International Inc. of Markham, Ontario, attacked Section 110 at a mid-October Senate subcommittee meeting held in Detroit. Magna Vice Chairman William Fike said Michigan and Ontario's three major crossing points already are overburdened and Section 110 could lead to chaos.
Fike said such a law would interfere with tight schedules in Magna's network of 100 plants in North America. A single Magna division in Toronto ships to more than 30 U.S. destinations and receives about five truckloads of goods a day from the United States, according to the Toronto Globe and Mail. Magna officials declined to comment on the newspaper's report.
Under Section 110, millions of Canadians will be subject to U.S. entry controls and documentation requirements each year. Section 110 was designed to protect against illegal immigrants. The recent House vote did not exempt Canadians from Section 110.
In current practice, most Canadians are waived through customs after a few questions about the nature of their visit. They can, however, need documentation if they plan to do business in the United States.
Section 110 requires the Immigration and Naturalization Service to develop an automated system to document the entry and departure of ``every alien'' arriving and leaving the United States. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, said INS needs ``a reasonable time frame'' to develop a system that will avoid border crossing slowdowns.
U.S. officials have tried to assure Canadians they would not be penalized by Section 110, said Patricia Low-Bedard, a spokeswoman for Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade in Ottawa.
Canada will work with the United States to facilitate legitimate movement of goods and people so the two countries can carry on business as usual with a relatively free and unregulated border, Low-Bedard said in a telephone interview from Ottawa. ``But until there are clear and positive results,'' Canada will continue pressure through its U.S. embassy and consulates.
She declined to speculate if Canada is considering any retaliatory moves.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has been a vocal opponent to changes to Section 110. She said at a Nov. 6 hearing she would fight to keep Section 110 intact because the United States must pounce on illegal immigrants and drug runners. Feinstein said California attracts the largest number of the country's estimated 5 million illegal aliens and its taxpayers are tired of paying for their social services and other costs.
Plastics News East Coast reporter Steve Toloken also contributed to this story.