U.S. Senator Susan Collins, Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, today released the following statement regarding the omnibus spending bill, which was recently signed into law by President Bush. It includes language that will delay the implementation of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) until at least June 1, 2009:

“The delay of this initiative is welcome news,” noted Senator Collins. “I worked to see that this language was included in the final bill because I harbor concerns regarding the current ability of the government to successfully implement WHTI. I believe that the additional year of lead-time before this requirement is enforced will allow for better planning and mitigate its impact on border communities.”

“For many Maine residents, quick and easy border crossing is critical in order to access essential services, to travel to their jobs, to attend church, and to visit family and friends. It is important that we strike a balance between the security of our nation’s borders and the free flow of commerce and travel to and from the United States.”

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 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 Chertoff to waive the passport rule for children. Senator Collins has also been successful in her efforts to delay full implementation of this measure while DHS works to identify alternative, less expensive forms of identification that take the needs of frequent travelers residing in border communities into account.