Housepostpones passport requirements until 2009

Published on Thu, Jun 21, 2007 by at Grubb

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House postpones passport requirements until 2009

By Pat Grubb

Bowing to the inevitable, the Bush administration announced Wednesday that it was delaying passport requirements for travelers crossing land and sea borders from Canada into the United States.
Months of congressional criticism and pressure along with entreaties from the Canadian government finally led the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to delay the requirement until at least the summer of 2008. It was originally scheduled to go into effect in January.

Clearly, the chaos that ensued when air travelers from Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean were required to have passports beginning last January had an impact on the administration’s thinking.

That requirement was recently relaxed as Americans complained vociferously to their representatives in congress after the DHS failed to gear up for the huge increase in demand for passports. Dashed vacation plans and failed business trips all resulted from huge delays in passports being issued and those affected made their displeasure well known.

The requirement was part of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), itself a response to the 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act passed by Congress and signed into law by the President.

It’s not clear whether the newly announced delay is written in stone. Both houses of congress are in an uproar about the passport boondoggle and are currently holding hearings on the issue. Last week the house voted to delay implementation of WHTI requirements until mid-2009 and the senate is considering the same.

In an emergency senate committee for foreign relations hearing on Tuesday Indiana senator Richard Lugar said “Passport inquiries are now the number one casework concern in my Indiana offices by a wide margin. I anticipate that this is true for most Senate offices. In recent months, I increased the number of staffers dealing with passports from one to seven and instituted e-mail and website features to help process requests and disseminate information.”

In response, assistant U.S. secretary of state for consular affairs Maura Harty told the senators that she regarded the situation as “untenable.”
“One of the things we failed to predict was how quickly Americans would decide to apply for a passport,” she said.

The new rules certainly will not end confusion on the part of travelers, however. In one part of the DHS release, it says U.S. and Canadian citizens will need to produce either a WHTI-compliant document or a government-issued photo ID such as a driver’s license, plus proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate.

Further on in the document, however, in describing what is considered to be accepted forms of identification, it said Canadians may present a valid passport issued by the government of Canada or a valid trusted traveler program card such as NEXUS or FAST but does not mention birth certificates.

Such imprecision is sure to lead to confusion on the part of travelers and border guards when the time comes to actually ask for proof of citizenship.