Chertoff Urges Latin America To Back Passport Rules

Chertoff urges Latin America to back passport rules
By Chris Strohm, National Journal's Technology Daily

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff on Tuesday pleaded with Latin American business leaders to support increased security measures and not to block U.S. efforts to issue new passports, strengthen border controls and otherwise bolster protections.

Chertoff said industry and government must “come to grips” with building a process for worldwide trade and travel that includes increased security measures. “We cannot kick the can down the road indefinitely,” he said during a keynote speech before the Association of American Chambers of Commerce in Latin America.

Chertoff said the U.S. government is moving forward with efforts such as issuing new passports, requiring more information from the private sector on the shipment of cargo containers, and requiring travelers to give 10 fingerprints as part of the US-VISIT program for foreigners.

On Tuesday, the Homeland Security and State departments announced and opened to public comment proposed rules for card-format passports for U.S. citizens traveling between the United States, Bermuda, Canada, the Caribbean and Mexico.

Travel and industry organizations, along with some lawmakers, have been concerned that the new passports could impede commerce and tourism, especially along the northern border. In response, Congress delayed the date by which they must be issued and used to June 1, 2009. Chertoff said the department “is committed to bringing this initiative online.”

Chertoff added that the U.S. government will move forward with building fencing and infrastructure along the southern border with Mexico. But he reiterated his plea for Congress to pass a comprehensive guest-worker program in order to stem illegal immigration into the United States.

He said that program, along with targeting employers inside the country who hire illegal workers, is “the only realistic way” to achieve border security. “You have to look at the question of fencing not as a solution itself but as part of a package of solutions,” he said.

But Chertoff emphasized that it is not his department's intent to use “the heavy hand of government” to micromanage industry and trade. Instead, he said the department will provide industry with “a sense of what are reasonable and best practices,” along with market-based incentives where appropriate.

“The ultimate vision at the end of the day is not only to protect the United States but to protect the world,” he said.

He asked industry leaders to view security measures as good business practices, noting that a terrorist attack could have devastating affects on the global economy.