Senate Homeland Security Committee Ranking Member Susan Collins (R-ME) today joined Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) in introducing an amendment that requires further study of the feasibility of allowing drivers’ licenses to be used as an alternative to passports required under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. The amendment would also require that the government to be better prepared when the initiative is fully implemented, it would waive the passport processing fee in some circumstances, and would codify DHS’s earlier decision that children traveling with their parents can cross the border with a birth certificate rather than a passport. In addition, the measure would prevent implementation of WHTI until a drivers’ license pilot program is fully evaluated.
Senator Collins has long been concerned about the effect of the WHTI on states like Maine where travel over the boarder for many residents is frequent. She was successful in her efforts to encourage DHS, through a pilot program, to examine alternative and less expensive documents, such as drivers’ licenses, to be used in place of passports. She also authored the legislation delayed implementation of WHTI until the effect on border states is more fully examined.
Senator Collins said, “For many Maine residents, quick and easy border crossing is essential. They need access to vital services, to travel to their jobs, to attend church, and to visit family and friends. It is critical 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,” said Senator Collins. “This amendment will require DHS to closely evaluate the driver’s license pilot program and consider expanded use of driver’s licenses, and it helps ensure that the federal government adequately prepares for implementation of Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative,” Senator Collins added.
Specifically, the amendment would do the following:
– Require that all ports of entry have the ability to both process passport cards and be able to read them.
– Requires an analysis of the drivers’ license pilot program before WHTI can be implemented and consider how use of drivers’ licenses can be expanded.
– It would codify DHS’s earlier decision that children under the age of 16 traveling with their parents can cross the border with a birth certificate rather than a passport and that children under 18 traveling in school groups can do the same.
– It addresses the high cost of passports by creating mobile enrollment teams and designates six permanent locations in ports of entry where passport and passport card applications could be accepted without the processing fee.
The WHTI or “passport rule” was signed into law in 2004 and will 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 identify less expensive forms of identification, alternative 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 takes the needs of frequent travelers residing in border communities into account.