Passportrules delayed until 2009

Published on Thu, Oct 5, 2006 by eg Olson

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Passport rules delayed until 2009

By Meg Olson

The congressional requirement for a passport to enter the U.S. has been pushed back 17 months, but some members of Congress want it made clear that doesn’t mean the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) can’t go ahead sooner if it can overcome certain implementation hurdles.

“We urge the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the State Department to quickly develop the PASS card technology, card readers, and procedures to enable the earliest possible deployment of the system at our sea and land ports of entry,” Representative Harold Rogers (R-Kentucky) said as the House of Representatives prepared to pass the 2007 appropriations bill for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on September 29, the last day of the congressional regular session.

A conference report accompanying the bill contained a provision delaying requirements for a passport or new PASS card at land and sea ports until June 2009 and setting conditions to be met first, including an affordable passport alternative available to citizens of Canada and Mexico as well as the United States, and the technology and training in place to issue and process these documents efficiently.

Some House Republicans had balked at the delay and accepted the conference report only with recognition that the June 2009 date was not the soonest, but the latest, the system needed to be in place.
“Again, let me make this clear,” Rogers said. “The conference report does not force a delay upon WHTI. It is up to DHS and state to make sure the program works securely and is implemented as soon as possible, which can and should be in accordance with the original WHTI deadline of January 1, 2008.”

Approved by the Senate later that day, the bill is now cleared for final approval by the President.

The appropriations bill also contained funding for additional border patrol agents and new technology to watch the border.

“Using cutting edge technology is critical to securing our 4,000-mile-long northern border,” said Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Washington). “With vast, rural and rugged terrain, physical barriers provide limited benefits along much of the northern border. The right tools can provide critical intelligence about areas that have previously gone unsecured for so long.”

The bill includes a provision to test the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) on the northern border. “UAVs with extended range can conduct prolonged surveillance sweeps over remote border areas, relaying information to border agents on the ground,” Cantwell said.
Another bill also passed this session, which Cantwell voted against, mandates the construction of a security fence along the southern border and a study of a “state of the art infrastructure security system” on the border with Canada.

U.S. Representative Rick Larsen (D-Washington) also applauded funding for additional border patrol along the northern border, saying more and better equipped patrol personnel was the answer to security concerns, rather than any physical barrier. “In the second congressional district border security is backyard security,” he said. “While these Homeland Security funds will continue our efforts to put additional manpower along our northern border, there is still much work to be done.”