Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

April 6, 2006

WHTI angst on the US-Canada border

Filed under: Border Security — by Christian Beckner on April 6, 2006

The Globe and Mail and other Canadian news sources reported today on remarks by the new Canadian Ambassador to the United States, Michael Wilson, expressing concern about the implementation of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative and the related travel document deadlines:

Canada wants the United States to delay new rules requiring all cross-border travellers to carry passports by January, 2008, because of the enormous cost and complexity of the scheme.

Michael Wilson, Canada’s ambassador to the United States, warned yesterday of “confusion and congestion” at the border if Washington rushes to implement the new requirement without weighing potential costs.

“We have doubts as to whether the timetable can be met,” Mr. Wilson said at a conference on Canada-U.S. border issues in Washington.

He said Ottawa is willing to work with the White House and Congress “to get it right,” even if that means pushing back deadlines.

This is a real threat on the horizon to cross-border travel and commerce. If the United States stops admitting Canadians without passports on 1/1/2008, that’s going to hurt border communities and more importantly, it’s going to harm the broader US-Canada relationship. The two governments shouldn’t wait until the 11th hour to hash this out; they should work expeditiously to resolve these issues soon.

Meanwhile, the Seattle P-I reported yesterday on similar concerns among members of Congress from border states:

Moving to make life easier and cheaper for Americans visiting Canada, a bipartisan group of senators demanded Tuesday that the federal government create a free “day pass” that would allow U.S. citizens traveling north to re-enter the country without first obtaining an expensive passport.

The legislation offered by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and supported by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., is a direct response to a decision last year by the Departments of State and Homeland Security denying U.S. citizens the ability to re-enter the country without a passport after Dec. 31, 2007.

Critics, especially those along the northern border, sharply criticized the move, calling it expensive and punitive to those who routinely cross at places such as Blaine. The average cost of a passport, they said, is $97, meaning that it would cost a family of four from Seattle about $400 to visit Vancouver when the policy goes into effect….

A spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security said officials recognize the concern and are working on developing a pass card that would cost about $50.

Schumer and Murray say that’s still too expensive. But Homeland Security spokesman Jarrod Agen said the department doesn’t believe Congress should dictate a solution.

When the $50 estimate for the PASS cards was made in mid-January, I predicted that this would receive a strong adverse reaction from border state and border district members of Congress. I think the goals of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative are appropriate, but I don’t think that a purely fee-funded approach is the optimal route for this program. DHS and the State Department should find ways to reduce costs, and the Congress should consider subsidizing the cards, realizing that cross-border travel is a public good and of broad economic benefit to the United States and Canada.

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