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Wednesday, May 17, 2006
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Senate Approves Amendment to Delay Border-Crossing Requirements

Legislation co-sponsored by Murray would postpone PASS Card system for 17 months

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Today the U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan amendment to immigration legislation that would delay implementation of Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) passport requirements by 17 months. U.S. Senator Patty Murray – who has repeatedly urged the Bush Administration to delay the passport requirements cosponsored the amendment.

“I want to make sure that the steps we take will actually improve security with minimal delays and burdens for citizens and commerce,” Senator Murray said. “We need to ensure that federal agencies are prepared to implement this program with minimal disruption to commerce, tourism and travel.”

WHTI requires people crossing the border into the United States to show a passport or other approved document starting December 31, 2006 for passengers entering the U.S. by air or sea, and by December 31, 2007 for land border crossings.

The amendment which passed the Senate today by voice vote would delay implementation of the PASS card requirements for 17 months, to June 1, 2009.

On March 24th, Murray and Representative Rick Larsen hosted a forum in Bellingham with representatives from the Departments of State and Homeland Security to give Northern Border communities the opportunity to express their concerns that the new rules could hurt state commerce without actually improving security.

“The most important job of our government is to ensure the safety and security of our citizens. But as we implement this plan, we need to remember that the economy of our border states depends on fluid cross-border travel,” Murray said. “That’s why our federal agencies, local businesses and communities need more time to get this right.”

For years, Murray has advocated for increased staffing at the Northern Border. Immediately after September 11th, as a member of the Commerce, Justice, State and Judiciary Subcommittee, Murray helped craft a provision in the Appropriations bill to require at least 25 percent of all new Border Patrol agents and INS inspection staff to go to the Northern Border, and to boost Customs staffing levels by $25 million.

To view letter response to WHTI on "passport alternatives" - click here

September 1, 2005

Initiative Designed to Expedite Travel in the Western Hemisphere While Enhancing Security

Washington, D.C. – The Departments of Homeland Security and State formally submitted the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative proposal for public comment. The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative will require all U.S. citizens, citizens of the British Overseas Territory of Bermuda, and citizens of Canada and Mexico to have a passport or other accepted secure document that establishes the bearer’s identity and nationality to enter or re-enter the United States by January 1, 2008.

The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 mandated that the Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of State, develop and implement a plan to require U.S. citizens and foreign nationals to present a passport, or other secure document when entering the United States.

In the proposed implementation plan, the Initiative will be rolled out in phases, providing as much advance notice as possible to the affected public to enable them to meet the terms of the new guidelines. The proposed timeline will be as follows:

  • December 31, 2006 – Requirement applied to all air and sea travel to or from Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Bermuda.
  • December 31, 2007 – Requirement extended to all land border crossings as well as air and sea travel.

In April 2005, the Departments of State (State) and Homeland Security (DHS) announced a proposed plan to be implemented in three phases beginning on December 31, 2005 for the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. After further review and considering the delay in publishing the public notice in the Federal Register, State and DHS recognized that implementing the December 31, 2005, phase would be problematic for travelers. This new timeline will simplify the implementation and provide a longer lead-time for travelers to come into compliance with the requirements.

As previously noted, the passport will be the document of choice for travel within the Western Hemisphere or re-entry. However, another document that we anticipate will be acceptable under the travel initiative is the Border Crossing Card, (BCC – or “laser visa”). Currently, the BCC serves in lieu of a passport and a visa for citizens of Mexico traveling to the U.S. from contiguous territory. Other documents that we are considering for acceptance under this initiative are the Customs and Border Protection Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection (SENTRI), NEXUS and Free and Secure Trade (FAST) program cards.

No currently existing documents other than the BCC, SENTRI, NEXUS or FAST cards are under active consideration as substitutes for the passport. However, DHS and State are reviewing new technological developments regarding options for secure travel documents. Acceptable documents must establish the citizenship and identity of the bearer, and include significant security features. Ultimately, all documents used for travel to the U.S. are expected to include biometrics that can be used to authenticate the document and verify identity.

To provide vital information to the general public, the Departments of Homeland Security and State are issuing an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) on the plan to the public and requesting input and/or comment on the suggested documents and possible alternative documents that can meet the statutory requirements. A more formal rulemaking will be issued later this year following review of those comments to implement the first phase of the initiative. This rulemaking will take into account comments received from the ANPRM as well as soliciting further comments on the rulemaking itself.

Those wishing to comment on the proposal may access the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal at http://www.regulations.gov and follow the instructions for submitting comments.

For more information, visit www.dhs.gov or www.travel.state.gov


Passport plan will hurt U.S., Canada

Jim Bradley
Special to The Star
659 words
14 October 2005
The Toronto Star
Copyright (c) 2005 The Toronto Star

Unless it gets fixed, by 2008 all Canadians - and all returning American citizens - will need a passport to enter the United States.

The authors of the passport requirement were correctly thinking about border security. But their proposal threatens to cause so much unintended economic damage that we should all step back and rethink this idea.

Since 9/11, Canadians have shared American concerns about securing North America from terrorist attack, and have been working with the U.S. to make our common border more secure.

Ontario officials have met with their counterparts in New York, Michigan and Ohio to confer on border security issues. Canada has allocated $7.7 billion to bolster anti-terrorism efforts, including increasing the number of Integrated Border Enforcement Teams (IBET) from five to 14. IBETs are binational intelligence-driven law enforcement teams that target terrorists, as well as gunrunners and drug smugglers.

The question is: What more can be done to help us achieve the secure borders we all want, in a way that encourages the free-flowing two-way traffic that nurtures prosperity and preserves the personal liberty that is so precious to both our nations?

We have to get the answer right, because there is much at stake. Only 35 per cent of Canadian residents and 25 per cent of American residents currently hold passports. At a cost of about $100 per passport, the plan would be a major hurdle to cross-border travel, especially for families.

We estimate that the proposed policy could suppress American visits to Canada by more than 12 per cent by 2008. In Ontario alone, the potential loss is $570 million U.S. and 7,000 jobs. Even talk of a pending change is proving a strong negative motivator; more Americans stayed home this summer than in past years.

Quebec, the Maritimes and British Columbia would also feel the impact on their already shrinking tourism business from south of the border.

The American economy has as much to lose from the passport requirement as Canada does.

Last year, 35.9 million Canadians visited the U.S. and put $11.7 billion into American tourism industry cash registers. That is $2.1 billion more than Americans spent in Canada that year.

The proposed passport barrier would greatly diminish the lucrative traffic of Canadian visitors to border states for everything from Buffalo Bills, Detroit Pistons and Seattle Mariners games, to fine Italian restaurants in Niagara Falls, N.Y., Little League tournaments in Maine, and shopping safaris or sightseeing trips.

Parents, coaches and young athletes who participate in amateur sports tournaments, to the benefit of host communities, would also face daunting obstacles to maintaining these friendly cross-border competitions.

The passport proposal would have a debilitating impact on golf courses, restaurants, hotels and resorts in tourist spots such as Myrtle Beach, S.C., and the states of Virginia and Florida, where Canadian snowbirds can be the difference between breaking even and making a profit. The risks to all concerned are clear.

That is why N.Y. Senator Hillary Clinton called the passport requirement "ill-advised." She stated flatly, "It would be an economic disaster and would disrupt the flow of goods, services and personal relationships across the border."

That sums up the problem. What is the solution? Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land has proposed adapting drivers' licences for border purposes.

To its credit, the U.S. homeland security department is willing to discuss the possibility of using alternative secure documents for entry into America. This is where the Ontario government feels it can make a difference, through discussions with elected representatives and industry leaders from both sides of the border.

I am confident we can find a secure, yet readily available document that all can carry and continue to enjoy their traditional close ties.

Jim Bradley is Ontario's tourism minister.