Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) praised the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) announcement today that it plans to allow American and Canadian children to present birth certificates at border crossings, instead of requiring only passports for entry into the U.S. DHS announced its proposal as part the forthcoming Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI). The WHTI, when implemented, will define travel document requirements for U.S. land and sea border entry.
DHS’ proposal would allow U.S. and Canadian children, ages 15 and younger with parental consent, to cross the border at land and sea ports with a certified copy of their birth certificate as an alternative to a passport or other WHTI compliant identity card. U.S. and Canadian children, ages 16 through 18, traveling with public or private school groups, religious groups, social or cultural organizations or teams associated with youth athletics organizations would also be able to enter, under adult supervision, with a certified copy of their birth certificate. This proposal will be subject to public comment as part of the rulemaking process on the WHTI.
Senator Collins sent a letter to DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff in November, seeking action on alternative procedures to presenting a passport for school groups and minimizing the impact on families with children when they cross the border with Canada.
“DHS’ announcement today is welcome news. The cost to families to meet the passport requirement, and the burden it would have put on group chaperones and teachers, may have prevented some children from taking part in class trips and competitive sports across the border. So this makes good sense to allow some flexibility on the requirements for children.” said Senator Collins. “We must continue to balance the need to secure our borders with the need to ensure that we do not impose an undue burden on Americans who live near the border. For many Maine residents, quick and easy border crossing is necessary in order to access essential services, travel to their jobs or school and sporting events, to attend church, and to visit family and friends.
“I will continue to press DHS to move forward on developing procedures to accept alternative forms of identification for all Americans, instead of just passports, when the WHTI is fully implemented at our borders.”
The WHTI or “passport rule” was signed into law in 2004 and would require all individuals crossing the borders from Canada and Mexico to carry passports or documents deemed sufficient by DHS to denote identity and citizenship. Senator Collins, who is ranking member of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, has long argued that new travel rules should take into account the unique needs of states such as Maine, where frequent travel across the border is crucial. She was successful in her efforts to encourage DHS Secretary Chetoff to identify less expensive forms of identification as alternatives to a passport, which would meet the criteria set forth in the WHTI. She has also been successful in her efforts to delay full implementation of this measure while DHS works to identify alternative forms of ID that take the needs of frequent travelers residing in border communities into account.