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Dennis: Slam the gate on 'crossing the border' fee

Put simply, we're going to make it easier to conduct the trade and travel that creates jobs, and we're going to make it harder for those who would do us harm and threaten our security."

The speaker was President Barack Obama. The occasion was the 2011 agreement between the United States and Canada to lower the barriers to crossing the border.

And the contradiction today is plain as the Obama administration says it hopes to make Canadians pay a border-crossing fee.

Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., is right to oppose the fee. Other members of Minnesota and North Dakota's congressional delegations should join him, if they haven't already.

Their support will be vital, because in order to be defeated, the proposal must draw solid bipartisan opposition. Together, the U.S. House and Senate delegations from the two states number eight Democrats and five Republicans. That's a great start.

The proposal to study a border-crossing fee is contained in Obama's recently submitted budget for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The costs of securing the border are going up, and imposing new or boosting old fees is a good way of raising them, says Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano.

But securing the border is a basic obligation of the U.S. government. The costs of doing so should be paid for by all Americans, not imposed in a way that disproportionately hurts the border states.

And that's exactly what the proposed fee would do. "Anything that drives up costs discourages traffic," notes Perrin Beatty, president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.

The $1.6 billion in daily cross-border trade is real money, and border states depend on it.

Furthermore, crossing the border already has become a lot more difficult in the years since 9/11, and both nations are being hurt by it.

That's why the fee is "exactly the wrong way to go," Beatty told a reporter.

"It flies in the face of the intention of the joint border accord.

"The purpose there was to make the border more transparent to legitimate trade, and legitimate travelers; and what this does is to bureaucratize the border, make it stickier, more costly and thicker."

This week, a California Senate transportation committee voted 11-0 to create an enhanced driver's license in that state. Because the document can at times take the place of a passport, its creation brings us closer to what truly were the Good Old Days in U.S.-Canada relations: The days when travelers just had to flash their driver's license to move between the countries.

That's the goal the United States should be striving for. Imposing a border-crossing fee would pull us the other way -- and America has moved too far in that direction already.

Dennis is the opinion editor of the Grand Forks Herald, which is a part of Forum News Service.