DHS to approve state license pilot project
crossing the Washington border into British Columbia
may only have to secure a $40 state-issued drivers’ license
as opposed to a $97 passport if a pilot project by the
U.S. Department of Homeland Security is approved this
On Friday, DHS secretary Michael Chertoff is scheduled to visit Olympia to sign papers allowing the state to test the country’s first pilot project involving a cheaper alternative to the passport.
The enhanced licenses will show proof of citizenship, state residency, allow the search of federal databases such as criminal records and provide a less-costly alternative to $97 passports required under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) expected to be implemented at all land and sea crossings as early as January 2008.
At the request of governor Christine Gregoire, state lawmakers are pushing through a house bill that will authorize changes to state licenses and make the pilot project the first in the country and offer a less-costly alternative to the passport requirement.
If successful, the licenses will likely be duplicated in other states along the northern and southern borders, said Antonio Ginatta executive policy adviser to Gregoire.
The move comes after a push from business leaders on both sides of the border who are concerned about the WHTI requirement’s possible impact on cross border commerce and tourism – especially border communities such as Sumas and Blaine, which rely heavily on Canadian visitors.
A January 2006 report by the Border Policy Research Institute at Western Washington University (WWU), for example, predicted the expense and inconvenience of mandating a secure document such as a passport could result in a net loss of $10 million per year in the amount of goods and services purchased by Canadian visitors to Whatcom County.
Another study by the B.C. Council of Tourism Associates predicts that the passport requirement will likely result in significant lost tourism receipts to British Columbia between now and 2010.
As of now, the WHTI requires all individuals crossing the U.S. border via air to possess a U.S. passport.
For individuals crossing the U.S. border by land or sea, a driver’s license and birth certificate will suffice.
“The governor recognizes the strong relationship with British Columbia in trade, tourism and economic development, the common security interests that we have,” Ginatta said. “Those things have motivated her to push for a convenient and secure alternative to the passport only requirement.”
The new card will cost between $35 and $40 and is expected to be available by January 2008, he said.
Ginatta said the governor’s office will be continuing to work with DHS officials to develop security protections and issuance standards that will maintain border mobility while continuing to enhance border security.
“We’re still looking at the final details,” he said.
Bellingham/Whatcom County Chamber of Commerce president Ken Oplinger, who had been urging federal officials to implement more flexibility with regards to WHTI, said the measure is a step in the right direction but that more efforts need to be taken to minimize impact on Whatcom County businesses.
Oplinger said Washington business leaders had hoped for the adoption of technology such as hand-held scanners, that would allow the use of existing drivers’ licenses.
He said the inconvenience of having to obtain a new, secure document would likely deter many individuals from spontaneous trips across the border.
“It’s a small step towards our goal, but it was also a lot of things that we had kind of hoped to avoid,” he said.