Friday, May 10, 2013


US senators press Homeland Security on UAE customs pact

U.S.-bound passengers might soon be able to clear customs while in Abu Dhabi, but some senators say the resources should be used in the U.S.

 U.S. customs: Abu Dhabi International Airport

Reuters. Abu Dhabi International Airport
is trying to get preclearance for U.S.-bound passengers.


WASHINGTON — An agreement to extend U.S. customs preclearance operations to Abu Dhabi International Airport in the United Arab Emirates has drawn criticism from a group of U.S. senators, who are pressing for more information on the pact.

Preclearance allows U.S.-bound passengers to get advance approval to enter the United States from established locations in airports outside the country.

"We question whether the Department (of Homeland Security) has the authorization to enter into such an agreement, and we are concerned by the precedent set by the Department's action," 11 senators said in a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, dated on Wednesday.

A spokesperson for the department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The United States has preclearance centers at 15 locations in Canada, Aruba, Bermuda, the Bahamas and Ireland, according to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website.

The arrangements with Canada and the resort islands date back to the 1950s and 1960s, and the arrangement with Ireland to the 1980s, with modifications over time.

Airlines for America, the main U.S. industry group, has also complained that the agreement with the UAE will divert U.S. customs resources to that country when they could be better used to address congestion at U.S. airports.
"Reducing wait times at U.S. airports should be a top priority of DHS and CBP (Customs and Border Protection), not using U.S. tax dollars to benefit a foreign government, particularly when wait times at U.S. points of entry continue to be excessive," group President Nicholas Calio said in statement on Friday.

The senators said their understanding was the UAE had agreed to pay up to 80 percent of the cost of operating the facility at Abu Dhabi International Airport, which is the hub for the UAE-owned Etihad Airways. The airport "is not served by any air carrier based in the United States," the senators' letter said.

"By establishing foreign-funded pre-clearance operations at an airport with so little traffic bound for the United States, we question whether the Department is choosing pre-clearance locations based on risk or a pay-to play process," they said.

They pressed Napolitano to explain the department's decision and to "clarify the rationale for allowing a foreign government or entity to pay for core security functions."

Reporting by Reuters

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