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ABU DHABI PRECLEARANCE

By Lauren | Jul. 18, 2013 07:53am

While many Americans have been trying to wrap their heads around what really happened in Benghazi, how the NSA is allowed to track every move a person makes on the Internet, who authorized the IRS to target and harass conservatives, and why the Obama administration would inject themselves into the George Zimmerman case, they may have missed the story about the Department of Homeland Security creating a US customs preclearance facility in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

That’s right: A plan hatched by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the UAE places U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents in the Abu Dhabi airport, allowing passengers to be screened by U.S. agents prior to their departure for the country, therefore bypassing long customs lines here in America. This move essentially makes it more convenient to enter America via Abu Dhabi than it would be to enter through airports like JFK or LAX.

Setting up a U.S. preclearance facility in another country is not exactly a new idea. In fact, according to CBP the U.S. operates 15 preclearance facilities in five countries: Aruba, Bermuda, the Bahamas, Ireland and Canada with the earliest opening in 1952.

In April, CBP spokeswoman, Jenny Burke justified the Abu Dhabi facility and said, "the pre-clearance agreement with the UAE will enhance our aviation security by allowing U.S. security officials to screen passengers before they board flights bound for the United States," She also said that the agreement underscores "our commitment to protecting the safety and security of our citizens while also streamlining legitimate travel and commerce."

It is interesting to note, that according to a 2010 New York Times article (unrelated to the Abu Dhabi preclearance story), customs spokesman, Anthony Bucci said the purpose of setting up international preclearance facilities was “to reduce congestion at ports of entry and to facilitate travel between the preclearance location and U.S. airports.” This statement makes you wonder, what happened between October of 2010 and April of 2013 that made CBP change the rationale for establishing preclearance facilities?

The agreement with Abu Dhabi raises eyebrows (and questions) for many reasons:

1) According to an airline trade group, Airlines for America (A4A), Abu Dhabi ranks 80th among aviation gateways to the U.S. and averages only 573 passenger arrivals per day. This statistic begs the question, why not create a customs preclearance facility in London's Heathrow airport which, according to A4A, services more than 10,000 people daily and ranks first among aviation gateways to the U.S.?

2) Abu Dhabi services not one U.S. airline carrier, meaning this preclearance facility would only benefit foreign airlines-- specifically Etihad Airways. In fact, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article, James Hogan, the chief executive of Eithad said "the post would support Etihad's expansion as an international carrier and boost Abu Dhabi, the largest and richest of seven emirates in the U.A.E., as a global aviation hub."

This leads us to another question: Why is the U.S. assisting Abu Dhabi in reaching this goal? 3) As Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) noted in his opening statement at last week's Congressional hearing on the Abu Dhabi preclearance facility, many U.S. airlines often subsidize their domestic flights with revenue from their international flights. If the preclearance plans move forward, Poe believes," it is hard to see how this doesn’t lead to higher prices for domestic U.S. flights and Americans losing their jobs."

4) According to DHS testimony in April, the agency warned that "International travelers have experienced wait times of up to several hours to process through Customs and a number of locations have reported wait times averaging between 120 to 240 minutes, and some as long as four to 4.5 hours...Air travel at the major gateway airports is up by four percent, on top of a three-year increase of over 12 percent."

If this is the case, why are we using our CBP resources and U.S. taxpayer dollars overseas when we clearly need it here at home?

According to A4A, airlines and passengers partially pay for U.S. CBP preclearance facilities through user fees. Essentially calling it a pay-to-play scheme, President and CEO of A4A, Nick Calio said, “The proposed agreement with Abu Dhabi creates an incentive for DHS to shift its sources of funding to those with the deepest pockets rather than addressing the greatest need."

Sean Kennedy, Senior VP Global Government Affairs for A4A, calls the agreement "misguided" and says it, "...makes US airlines less globally competitive and creates unacceptably long backlogs for people looking to visit, tour, or have meetings in the United States."

As of right now, the preclearance facility is set to open this December. Due to efforts by members in the House of Representatives, an amendment was passed back in June to prohibit the use of funds in the DHS appropriations bill for the UAE preclearance facility until the following conditions are met:

(1) The foreign policy and national security policy rationales have been provided to the Committee;
(2) A fully-burdened cost analysis has been conducted and provided to the Committee, including planned sources of funds; and
(3) An economic impact analysis of the new location on U.S. airline carriers has been conducted and provided to the Committee."


We are still waiting to see if the Senate will pass that version of the bill.

Sign the A4A petition HERE to stop the UAE preclearance facility.

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