03.27.08

The Final DHS Rule On Passport Requirements For Land And Sea Crossings Under The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI)

[The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Thursday published its final rule on implementation of new passport and documentation rules for land and sea crossings at U.S. borders, under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI).  Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is the principal author (with Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska) of a law enacted in December that mandates postponement of passport requirements from January 31, 2008 to June 1, 2009, or until seven conditions in the Leahy-Stevens Amendment are certified as being met -- whichever comes later.  The amendment was added to the DHS Appropriations section of the recently enacted omnibus appropriations act.  Leahy, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, has set a hearing on DHS oversight with Secretary Michael Chertoff for next Wednesday, April 2.  Leahy’s comments follow:] 

The good news is that the Bush Administration will not fight the new law that moves the passport requirement to next year.  The bad news is that there is little reason to believe DHS will be ready even then.   

Unfortunately, for DHS this rule does not signal a change of attitude but only a grudging acknowledgement that Congress meant what it said when it postponed the passport requirement.   

Our new law prevents DHS from imposing a new passport requirement on our borders until there is more preparation.  DHS now says it will not fight the extra time Congress ordered to help them get ready.  But they still have given the American people no reason to believe they will meet the readiness conditions in the new law.

The Homeland Security Department’s record does not instill confidence in how they will handle the remaining steps in implementing WHTI.  There is no indication that they will be ready with the appropriate technology infrastructure at our borders to handle new documents.  There is no reason to believe border upgrades will be ready.  There is no signal they will reconsider using problematic RFID technology that poses security and privacy concerns.  There is no assurance that they will have enough time to hire and train the border agents who will be needed to implement the passport requirement.  And there is no reason to believe that adequate consultations with Canada are underway, even now.  

 

In DHS’s hands, WHTI is not an advance in security but smoke and mirrors with little real benefit and the potential for a great deal of collateral damage to our economy.  With billions of U.S. exports to Canada at stake and troubling economic times upon us, continuing uncertainty is the last thing American producers and our potential Canadian customers need right now.

 

We will hope for the best as DHS implements this rule, and we will welcome any promising signs.  But experience with DHS has cautioned us to watch closely, and to be ready to step in as needed.

 

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David Carle: 202-224-3693