WASHINGTON, DC– Senator Susan Collins, who chairs the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which oversees the Department of Homeland Security, has contacted DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff to request that he take into account the affect new passport rules could have on border states, such as Maine, where frequent travel between the border is crucial. DHS has begun the process of drafting new rules, pursuant to the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative to strengthen security by requiring a passport or other documents for travel across our borders. Senator Collins is requesting that during the rulemaking process, DHS look not just to passports, but at other forms of identification such as drivers licenses, that could be acceptable, and that the department search for ways to enable frequent travelers to cross the borders more rapidly.
As part of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, which Senator Collins co-authored, she included provisions in the bill that provides the Secretary of Homeland Security with the authority to take into account the needs of border communities.
The text of Senator Collins’ letter to Secretary Chertoff is as follows:
April 18, 2005
The Honorable Michael Chertoff
Department of Homeland Security
Dear Secretary Chertoff:
I am writing to you today regarding the Department of Homeland Security’s plan to implement, in conjunction with the Department of State, the documentary requirements of section 7209 of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (IRTPA). This section requires U.S. citizens and nonimmigrant aliens to present a passport, or documents sufficient to denote identity and citizenship, for travel into the United States from Western Hemisphere countries.
In enacting the IRTPA, Congress recognized both the importance of strengthening our borders and protecting our nation against the threat of terrorism, and maintaining the free flow of legitimate tourism, trade, and other services that are so vital to our border communities. Striking the right balance will be critical. In my home state of Maine, for example, many Mainers rely on the ability to quickly and easily cross the northern border to travel to their jobs, attend church, and visit family and friends. Many Canadians also frequently cross the border into Maine in order to visit family and friends, shop in our stores, and dine in our restaurants.
I am concerned that the travel of people we know, people who travel across the border regularly as part of their family, social, spiritual, work, and personal lives, people who pose no threat to our country or our neighbors, will be unnecessarily inhibited if we do not allow some alternative to passports. President Bush’s recent comments to the American Society of Newspaper Editors indicate that he shares these concerns. Expressing his belief that requiring all travelers to carry a passport may disrupt the legal flow of traffic and people, the President suggested that we must examine ways to expedite the legal flow of traffic across our borders.
With these concerns in mind, I included provisions in the IRTPA to ensure that the interests of people living in border communities are taken into account as the Secretary of Homeland Security develops these new travel initiatives. Specifically, I authored language requiring that the Secretary’s plan to implement these new requirements seek to expedite the travel of frequent travelers, including those residing in border communities, and in doing so, make readily available a registered traveler program. I also ensured that the Secretary had the authority to allow travelers to enter the United States with an alternative document, or a combination of documents, sufficient to denote identity and citizenship.
While I understand and appreciate the Department’s suggestion that registered traveler plans currently in existence, such as NEXUS, are likely to be accepted in lieu of a passport, I understand that NEXUS has not been implemented at any Maine port of entry. Until convenient and cost-effective programs are readily available to all people living on the border, I urge the Department to implement alternatives to passports that will not unduly burden these individuals. I should also note that State driver’s licenses will soon be made more secure through the rulemaking process established in section 7212 of the IRTPA. In light of the anticipated improvement in the reliability of these documents, I would ask that the Department also consider driver’s licenses, perhaps in combination with some other document, as possible alternatives to passports.
Susan M. Collins