Following Senator Susan Collins’ (R-ME) success in delaying implementation of new border identification requirements, known as the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), the Senator is encouraging the Department of State and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to carefully consider ways to implement the new rule “in a way that will be less burdensome for border communities and less disruptive for American businesses.” Senator Collins is particularly adamant that the WHTI must allow American citizens to show an affordable alternative type of acceptable identification at border crossings, besides passports, which are the only identification allowed under the WHTI as currently written.
“The Department of Homeland Security and the State Department must work together to strengthen border security and ensure that we are not allowing people into the country who may want to do harm,” said Senator Collins. “However, I feel strongly that the initiative must balance the need to strengthen border security with the needs of people living on the border. It is imperative that Mainers who need to travel frequently back and forth across the border be able to do so – to do their jobs, go to church, visit family and friends, and get the essential services they need. Many Canadians also frequently cross the border into Maine in order to visit family and friends, shop in our stores, dine in our restaurants, and work in our health care facilities in border towns.”
The following is the text of a letter that Senator Collins wrote with Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff:
Dear Secretary Chertoff and Secretary Rice:
We write to express our views on the provisions in the 2007 Homeland Security Appropriations Bill (P.L. 109-295) related to the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI).
While we recognize WHTI as essential to our national security, we have long held concerns about its implementation. We were therefore pleased that P.L. 109-295 permits the Departments to delay implementation of WHTI until June 1, 2009. We are hopeful that this extension will be used to enable the Departments to implement WHTI in a way that will be less burdensome for border communities and less disruptive for American businesses.
To that end, we encourage the following steps to make the most of this additional time:
1. Develop regulations that ensure disruptions will be minimal. Among the certifications required by P.L. 109-295 are a justification of the cost structure of a Pass Card, an alternate procedure for school groups, and the use of a pass card for both land and sea ports of entry. We look forward to this certification, and believe these steps will help to reduce the hardship WHTI will place on our constituents. Document affordability for all residents, particularly children, seniors, and border community residents, will be essential to minimizing the inconvenience of WHTI for our constituents. We urge the Departments to consider Pass Card RFID technology carefully, and wish to state our interpretation that language related to the Pass Card in P.L. 109-295 should not be interpreted as opting for one RFID choice over another.
2. Act now to avoid border delays in the future. We urge the early development of a plan to manage and minimize potential border delays once WHTI takes effect. We are concerned that persons lacking the proper documents could cause a back-up at U.S. border crossings, and urge planning for this possibility to begin now. To mitigate any confusion, we also recommend an aggressive outreach program to make sure Americans are well aware of the change in documentary requirements, both before and after WHTI is implemented.
3. Reexamine the cost of the Pass Card alternative. The Departments propose issuing a Pass Card as an alternative document to the Passport for land and sea travel across U.S. borders. The proposed cost of the Pass Card for a first-time adult applicant is $45. This high cost could deter travel and commerce. The Departments should revisit the analysis of the costs associated with the card and the execution fee for first-time applicants and identify how these costs can be reduced.
3. Intensify cooperation with Canada. While we understand some meetings have occurred, the U.S. and Canada appear to have very different visions for WHTI. In a practical sense, all of us have an interest in continuing to welcome Canadians to spend money in our country. A decline in Canadians visiting the U.S. would have a significant impact on tourism and retail businesses in border states such as our own, as well as throughout the U.S. We therefore encourage you to work with the Canadian government to develop acceptable documentation for Canadian citizens, and ensure a common vision for WHTI implementation.
4. Test the new Pass Card technology at border crossings. While we are hopeful the new Pass Cards will be a practical solution for many of our constituents, we are troubled by the Departments’ reluctance to test the new technology. The economic consequences of a major border delay, even at a single crossing, could be significant. We encourage that Pass Card testing begin at a less busy border crossing, and then be expanded to consider the challenges at larger crossings.
5. Test the viability of a driver’s license option. One consequence of this delay is that some states will have REAL ID drivers’ licenses in place prior to the WHTI deadline. We therefore encourage you to look at ways to harmonize these two programs, on a voluntary basis. We believe creative solutions can be found to adjudicate citizenship, either through state cooperation with the State Department, or perhaps through state verification of records for citizens born in that state only. We believe a harmonization of machine readable technology and new secure drivers’ licenses is a concept that should be tested, and encourage the Departments to do so during these additional months prior to the WHTI deadline. We are aware of states that have indicated their willingness to host such a pilot.
6. Consider creative solutions for Americans who regularly travel through Canada. We urge a less burdensome solution for individuals engaged in boat travel between remote areas of our states and Canada. Existing programs are simply unrealistic for many individuals whose boating does not take them near a manned port of entry. Similarly we urge a creative solution for American communities in which residents and visitors must commute through Canada or Canadian waters simply to access basic services, such as Minnesota’s Northwest Angle.
P.L. 109-295 gives the Administration additional time to implement WHTI. We urge the Departments to take advantage of this extension by working towards a program that meets the economic, security, and practical needs of our constituents.