NEXUS to cost fifty dollars for five years

Published on Thu, Mar 14, 2002 by Meg Olson

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NEXUS to cost fifty dollars for five years

By Meg Olson

Details continue to trickle out about how, and when, the proposed new NEXUS commuter lane will be in place at local borders. The good news is, it’s cheap. The bad news is, there’s a growing list of problems to address before it’s up and running.

Following a late February meeting between U.S. and Canadian border agencies in Vancouver, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) released enrollment procedures and costs for the program. “They’ve come to some agreement about how it’s going to work,” said INS district inspections chief Ron Hays.

Hays confirmed the first step for NEXUS enrollees would be to complete an application form and send it to the Canadian processing center at the Douglas crossing with a fee of $50 CDN.

Initial plans are for Canadian agencies to process applications first and handle the distribution of the funds. Once they approve an application it will go to the U.S. enrollment center at the Pacific Highway crossing, where the INS will do their own evaluation and criminal background checks on applicants. Applicants who make it through these preliminary checks will get a letter telling them when and where to come for an interview.

“Every person wanting to enroll will fill out an application, even if they’re two-years-old,” said Hays. There will be no application process tailored to families and each application will be processed independently and an interview set up. “If they give them to us together, the odds of them getting called in together are better,” Hays said.

Interviews by both U.S. and Canadian immigration representatives are likely to be at the Pacific Highway enrollment center, Hays said.

Approved applicants will be fingerprinted and have their photo taken, at no additional charge, and a card, valid for five years, will be issued immediately after the interview. “If the inspection lane is open they can start using it right away,” Hays said. Rejected applicants will not get their processing fee back.

The cards will eventually be used in three locations – north and southbound at Pacific Highway, Peace Arch and Point Roberts – once those lanes are open.

Hays said they hope to have the whole system up and running this summer, but there is still a long stretch of hurdles to clear, starting with getting the enrollment process rolling. “That has always been the 900-pound nut to crack,” Hays said. “It’s a three-legged stool and all three legs need to come together simultaneously: the people, the place and the software.”

Plans for the NEXUS enrollment center at Pacific Highway were made before September 11, 2001, when almost 150,000 people used the PACE program to ease their commute. The move to NEXUS was planned as a slow transition. Now the INS expects a stampede, and they want the enrollment center set up with ten, rather than one, workstations. This means additional staff to hire, space to find, improvements to make and equipment to buy. Hays said he has preliminary approval for funding to hire staff and buy equipment for the enrollment center, and has negotiated with the General Services Administration for a suitable office. Next will come hiring and installation, and needed upgrades to the software based on the recent agreement with Canadian border agencies. “Recent changes to the program have made the software inappropriate,” Hays said. “Right now that’s my biggest concern.”

Hays said enrollment would first be open to Point Roberts residents only, and they were considering whether another group, such as previous PACE participants would be next in line. “We need an orderly enrollment process and we need to be ruthless,” he said. ‘If we get 150,000 people at the door, I’ll shut the door.” He said two to three weeks before enrollment starts they are planning town meetings to outline the process. They will also work on ways to get applications handed out and checked for completeness in the community before they are sent off, to make processing more efficient.

Once enrollment is underway, Hays said opening the actual NEXUS inspection lanes should not take much time. “We have 90 percent of the inspection lane stuff already installed, at least at Pacific Highway,” he said, adding that lane equipment there could be finished in three days once there were enough people enrolled in the program. “My understanding is that once they finish at Pacific Highway they’ll go immediately to start on Peace Arch, and then Point Roberts.”

Hays said each lane would take approximately a week to install, followed by at least a week of testing before it could open for use. On the Canadian side, he said, the PACE lanes would re-open as NEXUS lanes for travellers as soon as the southbound lanes opened. However, travelers would manually present their cards until radio-frequency antennas to automate card reading could be installed.

Hays and INS district public affairs officer Garrison Courtney agreed that June was a target date to get the program running, but not a very realistic one. “Our national headquarters has said they’d like to see it by June,” said Courtney, who has been quoted in media reports citing a June start date for the system to be fully in place. “Realistically, I don’t see it happening.”. ..

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