An agreement to extend US customs pre-clearance operations to Abu Dhabi airport in the United Arab Emirates has drawn criticism from a group of US senators, who are pressing for more information on the pact.Pre-clearance allows US-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 authorisation 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 Wednesday.The United States has pre-clearance centres at 15 locations in Canada, Aruba, Bermuda, the Bahamas and Ireland, according to the US 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 US industry group, has also complained that the agreement with the UAE will divert US customs resources to that country when they could be better used to address congestion at US airports."Reducing wait times at US airports should be a top priority of DHS and CBP (Customs and Border Protection), not using US tax dollars to benefit a foreign government, particularly when wait times at US 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 in Abu Dhabi, which is the hub for 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." Source: Reuters
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