U.S. denies any delay in border passport rule
By Devlin Barrett
The Associated Press
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 05.12.2007
WASHINGTON The new rule that anyone driving across the Canadian or Mexican border must have a passport or passcard will “absolutely” begin in January, government officials said Friday, rebutting a New York senator's statement that the plan will be delayed.
Lawmakers from states along the northern border have been trying for months to stall or alter the plan to require the more secure identification documents, contending the rule will hurt trade and tourism.
The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative was created by Congress to tighten security on both the Canadian and Mexican borders, but many members are now fuming at the notion their constituents will need a $97 passport or a not-yet-developed passcard, expected to cost around $50. Children would be exempt.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., predicted Thursday that the government won't be able to start in January, but Department of Homeland Security officials insist they will.
“We have a firm deadline and we're absolutely committed to moving forward with the implementation of Western Hemisphere travel requirements at our northern border,” said DHS spokesman Russ Knocke.
The agency does not have a date for people to start applying for the new passcards, which are being created by the State Department, but Knocke said that would not affect the January launch.
Lawmakers have repeatedly passed legislation trying to delay the land-crossing requirements.
On Wednesday, the House passed a measure designed to push back the starting date until 2009 or beyond.
But the administration is going ahead, and Knocke rapped Schumer for fighting the security measure, launched after a recommendation from the 9/11 commission to make it harder for potential terrorists to use bogus documents to enter the United States.
“You can either be for security or against security,” Knocke said, adding that some states have already begun discussions about creating new driver's licenses that would be so secure they could be used instead of passports.
Knocke said the agency has talked with state officials in Washington, Michigan, and Vermont about a driver's license program though he added that should not be taken as a signal DHS is going to loosen its border requirements.
On Thursday, Schumer said DHS “drives me crazy” because of what he called its incompetence, particularly over the border passports issue. He said the agency, formed after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, should be broken up because it is too large to function well.
The DHS spokesman called those comments an affront to the agency's 208,000 employees.
“The deck chairs have been reorganized enough,” said Knocke.
Americans also will be required to carry a passport when they enter the U.S. from Mexico.
Currently, they can generally cross with a driver's license and, in the case of children, a birth certificate.
Mexican citizens are required to have a biometric, machine-readable visa, known as a laser visa, that allows them to be in the country up to 90 days.