Peterson Calls on Border Security Agency to Update Technology

Feb 27, 2017

Congressman Collin C. Peterson (D-Minn.) on Friday led a letter with Senator Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Senator Franken (D-Minn.), and Congressman Richard M. Nolan (D-Minn.) to U.S. Customs and Border Protection to urge the agency to update the technology travelers use to report their arrival into the United States at the United States – Canadian border amid safety concerns.

Fishermen and outdoorsmen from around the world visit northern Minnesota and neighboring Manitoba and Ontario provinces every year. When U.S. tourists return from Canada, often during one-day trips, they must identify themselves at an Outlying Area Reporting Station (OARS) site. There are only three OARS sites in the Northwest Angle, for example, and oftentimes tourists must either travel during dangerous, cold winters nights to a OARS site or risk paying a fine.

“We want to encourage travelers to visit northern Minnesota where tourism plays a significant role in the local economy. However, the United States’ northern border inspection technology has become outdated and dangerous which could discourage future tourists from visiting areas up north. The United States should be able to implement border inspection technology that identifies travelers efficiently while supporting the economy in the northern region,” said Congressman Peterson.

The letter was sent to U.S. Customs and Border Protection Acting Commissioner Kevin McAleenan. It mentions a pilot program that was meant to update OARS inspection technology and asks for further details on possible solutions.

Text of the letter is below:

Dear Commissioner McAleenan:

We are writing to direct your attention to safety concerns with the Outlying Area Reporting Stations (OARS) located in the Northwest Angle of Lake of the Woods County in northern Minnesota. This has become a dangerous situation for locals and tourists and requires an immediate response.

The local economy of Lake of the Woods County depends heavily on fishing tourism and its 16 lodging resorts. The region attracts fishermen from around the world. In 2015, $11.8 million was spent on lodging in Lake of the Woods, and this translated to an economic impact of over $80 million, a significant amount of revenue for this rural county.

The Northwest Angle is a unique part of the country that cannot be reached by land from the U.S. without passing through an international border crossing at Manitoba, Canada. The U.S.-Canada border runs through the middle of the lake. Once a traveler sets foot on Canadian land, they must report their activities to Canadian authorities. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) interpret ice as land, so travelers who cross the frozen lake into Canada by snowmobile must also report their arrival.

When travelers return to the U.S. after having crossed into Canada, they must report at a U.S. port of entry or check in at the nearest OARS phone. The closest port of entry to the Northwest Angle is nearly two hours away and the closest OARS phone is 16 miles round trip from many of the island resorts. The current system is antiquated and in the winter it can be dangerous. Tourists who visit lodges in Lake of the Woods should not have to jeopardize their safety in order to follow the law.

In 2016, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agreed that the current system needs improvement. Minnesota is not the only state impacted by the outdated OARS system. Other border states like New York, Maine, and Michigan have reported similar problems. However, the Canada Border Services Agency’s border inspection system at the Northwest Angle has been lauded by local resort owners and tourists alike as both seamless and safe

We believe that the United States can also use new technology to create a system that protects our border security and is safe and convenient for locals and tourists in the Northwest Angle. We respectfully request a report from DHS on the 2014 Detroit pilot program and viable solutions for how to improve on the pilot program, including safe and efficient alternatives to the OARS system that can be used in places like the Northwest Angle.

Using new technology to improve reporting capabilities at the U.S. - Canadian border would significantly improve national security, tourism, and commerce in northern border states. We would appreciate your attention and look forward to working with you to ensure that visitors can safely and efficiently travel to the Northwest Angle.