Senatorsoffer alternative to border passport rule

Published on Thu, Apr 6, 2006 by ara Nelson

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Senators offer alternative to border passport rule

By Tara Nelson

Blaine residents concerned about a federal passport requirement may have less to worry about if a new proposal is approved by Congress.
The proposal, an amendment to the 2004 Intelligence Reform Bill, and co-sponsored by Senator Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., would create free 24-hour day passes that would allow U.S. citizens to re-enter the U.S. without showing a passport following day trips to Canada. Senator Patty Murray, D-Wash., backed the proposal.

The move comes after much protest from the business community regarding a 2004 Department of Homeland Security requirement that all visitors into the United States obtain a $97 passport. Business owners were fearful that – especially in small, border towns such as Blaine – the requirement would negatively affect commerce on both sides of the border.

A Zogby survey predicts that requiring passports at the Canadian border will result in as much as $2.5 billion in lost business on both sides of the border. The poll also predicted a third of Americans and Canadians would be less likely to cross the northern border to shop, attend sporting events or go to resorts if they had to buy a passport or something some similar form of identification. This could cost U.S. businesses as much as $800 million a year and Canadian businesses, $1.7 billion, according to the study.

Other features of the proposal would cap the price of passport cards or similar alternatives to $20 and allow minors to traveling with adults to travel without a passport, said Preston Hartman, press secretary for Senator Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, a co-sponsor of the proposal.

Hartman, however, said while the proposal may make it more affordable for Americans to visit Canada, the legislation does not address Canadians crossing the border.

“This only deals with the American side,” he said. “This legislation doesn’t address Canadians crossing the border and that’s going to be a huge issue. We’re going to have some form of standardized ID to get across the border, but doing that that shouldn’t present some sort of undue burden on those communities that depend on Canadian business. There should be a way to have border security without disrupting life and work for people who live in border communities.”

Ken Oplinger, president of the Bellingham Chamber of Commerce, was in Washington, D.C. Wednesday speaking with business owners on both sides of the border at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce meeting. Oplinger said while he had not looked into all the proposals fully, he is not in support of Schumer’s proposal at this time.

“We never intended it to be a pass for 24 hours,” he said. “We were thinking more about a weekend pass or a 48 or 72-hour pass.

“Our position at this point is that we’re not supportive of a short-term pass for now. There’s several parts of the proposal that we feel are simply unworkable.”