ID Rules To Change For Canada Crossings

A decision by the Department of Homeland Security means travelers coming into the United States from Canada will face tightened requirements for proof of identity and citizenship beginning Jan. 31. (Photo: Bloomberg News)
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By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Defying Congress, the Department of Homeland Security is pushing to tighten identification requirements at U.S. land borders starting Jan. 31, when it no longer will allow Americans or Canadians to enter the country by presenting a driver's license or declaring their citizenship.

The change is expected to worsen travel delays and backups along the U.S.-Canada border, which recorded 72 million crossings in 2007. The U.S.-Mexico border is even busier, with 226 million crossings, but noncitizens already need extra documentation to enter the United States there.

The shift at the northern border comes despite legislation approved by Congress last month that bars DHS from implementing a post-Sept. 11 regulation that requires all travelers entering the United States to present a passport or similar secure form of identification and proof of citizenship. That rule, passed in 2004 and set to take effect this month, was delayed until June 2009.

In pressing ahead, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff restated his belief that failure to act will lead to "another 9/11 Commission" investigating a future attack by foreign intruders. But he also took a shot at critics in Congress, border states and trade organizations that have opposed the program, called the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative.

"It's time to grow up and recognize that if we're serious about this threat, we've got to take reasonable, measured, but nevertheless determined steps to getting better security," he told the Associated Press.

The secretary's remark raises the ante in a simmering battle with congressional leaders from border states, including Sens. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.). They have threatened to challenge the legal basis of DHS's action and are drawing support from allies in Canada and powerful industry groups in both countries.

Noting that Chertoff's department was forced to temporarily suspend a similar requirement for air travelers last summer when the rule caused a massive U.S. passport backlog, Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds (R-N.Y.) said the secretary "frankly has as much credibility on telling people to grow up as Geoffrey the giraffe."

Leahy said that "with concerns about a recession on the way, the timing for clamping down on billions of dollars in trade and travel could not be worse. I can think of nothing that would push the northern border states over the edge more surely than this heavy-handed, ill-timed and misguided government mandate."

Under the rule, people 19 and older will be asked to present a passport or, once they become available, an enhanced driver's license or border pass card. Otherwise, both a regular driver's license and a birth certificate or other citizenship document will be required.

In letters Thursday to Leahy and Schumer, Chertoff said DHS had authority under earlier laws passed by Congress to tighten identification requirements at borders.

Schumer aides took aim at the birth-certificate requirement, noting that Chertoff pointed out in June that such documents are issued by many jurisdictions and are easy to forge. Roger Dow, head of the Travel Industry Association, said DHS should require people to present only a driver's license until a better alternative is ready in coming months. The State Department is scheduled to roll out more secure passport cards this spring.

A 2005 Conference Board of Canada study estimated that the travel initiative would cost the two countries and border communities $2.5 billion a year in reduced travel.

Chertoff said travelers must become accustomed to using the fewer forms of acceptable ID, rather than the 8,000 types now allowed, and that the United States must end the "honor system" of allowing people to declare citizenship at the border.

Over the past three years, DHS reported 31,060 cases of individuals trying to enter the country by falsely claiming to be U.S. citizens, including 1,517 in the past three months. The department did not say how many were caught on the northern border.

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