Anybody who has recently taken an international flight and returned to the United States has inevitably suffered through long lines at U.S. Customs and Border Patrol check points. Our national security is of the utmost importance, but lately the wait times to go through customs have bordered on the absurd. For instance, passengers who recently arrived into Dallas/Fort-Worth International Airport reportedly waited for more than two hours in customs, after being on a plane for as long as a dozen hours. These unbearable wait times have been the unexpected result of an increase in international travel; Dallas/Fort-Worth International Airport alone has seen an 11 percent increase since last year.
Yet, what is perhaps most frustrating about this situation is that instead of expending valuable resources to better staff customs checkpoints in the United States, our government is considering spending them in Abu Dhabi. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has been actively pursuing a deal that would establish a pre-clearance facility at the Abu Dhabi International Airport. The supposed purpose of such a facility would be to help speed entry into the United States, but in reality a pre-clearance facility located in Abu Dhabi would do nothing of the sort. In fact, an average of only 573 passengers travel from Abu Dhabi to the U.S. every day, and it ranks 80th among aviation gateways to the United States.
Before building pre-clearance facilities abroad, the United States should focus on domestic facilities, which demand significantly more attention. And while DHS has been trying to lead people to believe this deal would cut down on wait times, the truth is such a facility in Abu Dhabi not only diverts critical resources from domestic airports, but it also gives an unfair competitive advantage to foreign airlines over those in the United States.
Currently, no U.S. airline serves Abu Dhabi International Airport and none would benefit from the convenience offered by the proposed pre-clearance facility. The primary benefactor of this facility would be the Abu Dhabi-backed airline Etihad Airways, which has already started marketing easy access to the United States to potential travelers. The ability to use such a promotion provides Etihad Airways with an unfair advantage over American carriers, which would not have access to this facility. You would think that the United States already provides enough support to Etihad Airways, as this airline currently receives loan guarantees and favorable loan terms worth hundreds of millions of dollars from the Export-Import Bank of the United States, but apparently this is not sufficient.
Accordingly, there has been significant bipartisan resistance to the establishment of this facility with groups on both sides of the aisle, with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organization’s (AFL-CIO) Transportation Trades Department uniting to express steadfast opposition. The U.S. House of Representatives even passed a bipartisan piece of legislation prohibiting DHS from establishing a Customs and Border Protection pre-clearance facility at the Abu Dhabi International Airport, but the U.S. Senate has yet to take decisive action.
Going forward, the Senate must pass the House’s legislation to prohibit a pre-clearance facility in Abu Dhabi and the public should continue to mount pressure on the Obama Administration to shelve this irresponsible project. At a time when many airports are being forced to cut back and domestic customs’ lines are longer than ever, we should not be sending precious and scarce resources to a wealthy nation that can surely afford to pursue this endeavor on its own.
Stephen DeMaura is the president of Americans for Job Security.