U.S. Senator Susan Collins, Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, has issued this statement following an announcement by the Department of Homeland Security that it will require proof of citizenship, such as a driver’s license and a birth certificate, at our nation’s border crossings beginning January 31st.

“Today, I talked with Secretary Chertoff to express my concerns about the new requirements for documents at border crossings. While I understand that the Secretary views this initiative as separate from the requirement for a passport that the Congress has prohibited him from implementing until June 2009, the clear message we were sending to the Department was to be more attuned to the legitimate travel and commerce of border community residents. I reminded Secretary Chertoff that DHS caused unacceptable delays at the border crossings last year when it implemented license checks without having the necessary staff in place. For the Department to impose an additional requirement of a birth certificate, which many residents do not have at hand, and to no longer accept common documents such as baptismal certificates and student ID cards as a supplement to license checks could well cause considerable difficulties and back-ups at the border. I have urged the Secretary to reconsider this approach.”

Last month, the President signed an omnibus spending bill that included language, that Senator Collins worked to include, delaying implementation of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) until at least June 2009.

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.