Senators criticize border ID cards

Homeland Security: Visitor and Immigration Status Program Operating, but Management Improvements Ar

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Senators from Washington state and Alaska said Jan. 25 that the Homeland Security Department did not consider the ramifications of a new identification card for U.S. citizens who frequently cross the Canadian or Mexican borders.

DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice announced Jan. 17 that by the end of this year, DHS and State expect to create an inexpensive, efficient and interoperable card system that frequent travelers can use instead of passports.

The People Access Security Service (PASS) card will meet the requirements of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which requires that by Jan. 1, 2008, people entering the United States, including U.S. citizens, have travel documents that prove their identity and citizenship.

The initiative has already upset cross-border relations and commerce because many U.S. citizens think they need a passport now to cross the border, said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.).

There is evidence that misunderstandings about passport requirements are hurting cross-border trade because the implementation dates are not clear to most people, Murray said.

“There is total uncertainty as to what is required,” said Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska).

People crossing the borders by air and sea are required to start using passports Jan. 1, 2007, Murray said. There are concerns that travelers will stop using ferries because of the passport requirement and travel by land, increasing traffic at already crowded border crossings, she said.

DHS should consider extending the deadline for air and sea passengers to match the deadline for land travelers, Murray said.

Murray and Stevens voiced their concern at a meeting of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Homeland Security Subcommittee. The subcommittee discussed the progress of DHS’ U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) program.

US-VISIT should create an advisory committee with businesses in Washington state and Alaska to ensure that the new cards don’t affect Vancouver, British Columbia’s hosting of the Vancouver, British Columbia by making travel difficult, she said.

US-VISIT is working closely with the Canadian government to harmonize technology and business practices to make the PASS cards easier to use, said Jim Williams, director of US-VISIT.

“You’re not waking up,” Stevens chidingly said to Williams. Alaska is one-fifth the size of the lower 48 states, making travel long and difficult, and US-VISIT does not have an office in the state to provide the cards, he said.

“The circumstances in rural Alaska are different from everywhere else,” Stevens said. People in those areas “can’t get those cards.”

US-VISIT should establish a way for Alaskans and similarly affected U.S. citizens to get the cards by mail or other ways that would not require a personal appearance, Stevens said.

Williams said the program is looking into the idea of a one-day pass.

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