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DHS plan for customs pre-clearance in Abu Dhabi raises concerns


Abu Dhabi International Airport. (Courtesy Abu Dhabi International Airport). Abu Dhabi International Airport. (Abu Dhabi International Airport)

A decision by the Department of Homeland Security to provide pre-clearance operations in the United Arab Emirates capital city has prompted questions from a bipartisan group of lawmakers and protests from a coalition of airline-industry organizations.

Fourteen members of Congress signed a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on Thursday asking her to justify the plan for establishing a pre-clearance facility in Abu Dhabi. The lawmakers included Reps. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.) and Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), who head the House Homeland Security Committee.

“We are concerned that establishing a [Customs and Border Protection] pre-clearance facility in Abu Dhabi sets the dangerous precedent of deploying customs resources based on the availability of third-party financing — not national security, common sense, or the needs of traveling taxpayers,” the letter said.

Under pre-clearance, travelers flying to the U.S. can be treated as domestic passengers when they arrive at American customs checkpoints after landing. DHS has established pre-clearance facilities in other countries such as Canada and Ireland, but aviation groups contend that Abu Dhabi is different because U.S. airlines do not serve the airport there, according to an article from The Hill.

Ten groups associated with the airline industry have written a letter to lawmakers opposing the DHS proposal. The coalition also launched a Web site urging readers to petition Washington to stop the plan.

“This plan sets a disturbing national security precedent,” the petition said. “It allows a foreign government to pay for customs and other critical U.S. national security functions — with U.S. taxpayer dollars involved.”

The groups include the Air Line Pilots Association, the Consumer Travel Alliance and the Association of Flight Attendants, along with other unions and travel organizations.

Homeland Security had not responded to requests for comment at the time of this report.

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Josh Hicks covers Maryland politics and government. He previously anchored the Post’s Federal Eye blog, focusing on federal accountability and workforce issues.

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