Arizona signs on for enhanced driver's licenses

As the deadline for the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) approaches, another border state has decided to offer enhanced driver’s licenses to its citizens.

Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano signed a memorandum of understanding today with the Homeland Security Department to begin offering the WHTI- and Real ID Act-compliant licenses. The state joins New York, Vermont and Washington, whose governors also signed agreements.

The enhanced licenses would cost slightly more than the current version and be offered on an optional basis. Each card contains a photo of the cardholder and a radio frequency identification tag containing an electronically readable identification number.

“Agreements like this one, and the others before it, move secure identification in the right direction,” DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff said. He and Napolitano signed the memo during a press conference today in Washington.

“Arizonans deal every day with the many complex issues surrounding border security and immigration," Napolitano said. "I believe this enhanced identification will be a useful tool.”

WHTI requires that all travelers present a government-issued photo ID to leave the country while Real ID requires all state residents to carry a standardized, secure driver’s license or identification.

Both mandates ran into difficulties in the past year. Real ID lacks a final rule, leaving many states worried about the Dec. 31, 2009, deadline to comply with it. DHS officials said the final rules will be released in the coming months.

WHTI implementation hit a snag when its air travel requirement — which requires all air travelers to present a passport as ID — went into effect. The State Department was hit with a massive backlog of passport applications, which delayed issuance for months. DHS was forced to give some air travelers temporary certificates if their applications had been delayed.

The WHTI-induced passport backlog spurred Washington state to propose enhanced driver’s licenses that could serve as both a valid border-crossing ID and a Real ID-compliant card. Vermont and New York signed memos for similar initiatives soon after.

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