Congresswoman Suzan DelBene visited Point Roberts on Wednesday and spent an hour updating local residents on her work in Washington, D.C. and getting feedback to take with her as she heads back in September.
“The focus this session will really be on keeping the government funded,” she said at the August 17 town hall meeting hosted by the Point Roberts Taxpayers Association. “We haven’t passed a budget this year. I don’t expect a lot of things to move before the election. This is unfortunately a very contentious election cycle and even things both sides agree on may not move.”
DelBene congratulated the Point Roberts community for their successful efforts to stop a proposed radio tower project, which had been a focus of her last visit to the Point, and several audience members asked her to continue to support cross-border efforts. “We couldn’t have done it without the Canadians, both citizens and politicians,” said Arthur Reber, member of the Cross Border Coalition to Stop the Towers. He asked DelBene to work with British Columbia legislative assembly member Vicki Huntington to address issues of pollution and over-industrialization in Delta that will have impacts south of the border.
DelBene said she participates in the Northern Border Coalition which “provides a forum for us to work together with our colleagues across the border.” When asked if there had been any investigation by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers about the possible impacts that a proposed expansion of the Deltaport facility could have in Point Roberts and on the habitats that support the Pacific Flyway, DelBene said she would inquire and share that information with the community.
Jim MacKay, Point Roberts Marina project coordinator, said the company was hampered by its inability to hire Canadians for non-management positions, as had been possible under a visa waiver program created specifically for Point Roberts and discontinued when the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) took over running the port of entry from the Immigration and Naturalization Service. “We can’t be more than 70 percent productive because we can’t get staff,” he said.
DelBene said she had discussed the issue with DHS staff, who said they don’t feel they have the flexibility to put port-specific solutions in place without legislative direction. “We’re working on what opportunities there might be and what legislative solutions we can come up with that would be more targeted to this specific issue and not part of comprehensive immigration reform,” she said. “I know it’s very important to the economy and local business issues.”
From a more welcoming attitude in the booth to flexibility with length of stay in the U.S., audience members wanted the port of entry to be less of a barrier to people and dollars coming to the Point. “Our economy right now is based on Canadians coming down here and right now they’re not coming down because they’re being scared away by this rule about how many days you can stay,” said local contractor Bob Jewell. “That may be another unique issue to Point Roberts that will need a solution that is more targeted,” DelBene said, pointing out current DHS policies are written for all the nation’s borders.
Reber said new port director George Gibson was actively working to engage the community and try to develop solutions within his agency’s mandate. “If you have a problem, pull over and go talk to him,” he said.
A general discussion about trade policies led to questions about how changes to those policies could keep good jobs in local communities. “My kids would like to make a home here but they also want a good-paying job,” said one audience member. “We have grain going up to Canada, we have coal going up to Canada. Those should be jobs for Americans.”
“We need to make sure our ports are on an equal playing field,” DelBene agreed. “We have port capacity that isn’t being used.”
DelBene encouraged audience members to contact her office with any concerns or issues they may want assistance with.