U.S., Canada seek way around border passport plan

11/30/2005
USA TODAY

The Homeland Security and State departments are trying to come up with a cheap, convenient way for U.S. citizens and Canadians to prove their identities while crossing the border.












Faced with growing opposition to a proposal requiring people to show passports or other similar IDs, the Bush administration will propose new forms of identification next spring, Homeland Security spokesman Jarrod Agen said.


It’s unclear what kind of an ID might be used, but Agen said the government is looking for ways to make the new card easy to obtain and carry.


“We’ve heard and certainly recognize the concerns that folks don’t want this delaying them or creating problems along the border,” Agen said.


The passport requirement would be phased in by 2008. Among those complaining about the idea is British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell, who said Wednesday that requiring people to use passports to cross land borders “will do very serious damage to our tourist industry and the tourist industry of Washington state.”


He and Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire are asking President Bush to develop a border-crossing card.


The passport plan, proposed in April, is part of a post-9/11 effort to tighten security along the nation’s vast borders.


It would require U.S. citizens to show passports or similar IDs instead of just driver’s licenses or birth certificates when re-entering the country from Canada, Mexico, Panama, Bermuda and the Caribbean. And it would require Canadians, who can now enter with driver’s licenses, to show a passport to enter the USA.


Businesses, the tourism industry and politicians have warned that the requirement would stifle cross-border travel and hurt the economy. They say passports or comparable documents are too expensive and would discourage travel.


One in five Americans has a current passport. The typical cost to obtain one is $97.


Andrew Rudnick of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership said a passport requirement would not stop terrorists who aren’t likely to use official checkpoints to cross the border.


Rudnick said up to 15 million tourists visit the Niagara Falls area each year and the economy could take a huge hit under the passport rule. “People are very nervous around here.”


Agen noted that the 9/11 Commission recommended a secure ID for the borders and Congress ordered the Bush administration to develop one. Driver’s licenses don’t prove nationality, he said, and there are hundreds of variations, which make it hard for agents to recognize fakes.

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