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US Senate considers delay in passport requirements

OTTAWA, Ont. -- The United States Senate has adopted an immigration bill amendment that would see a delay in the im...

OTTAWA, Ont. — The United States Senate has adopted an immigration bill amendment that would see a delay in the implementation of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) until June 1, 2009. WHTI will require individuals to possess a passport, or yet-to-be determined substitute travel documents, in order to enter the United States.

But while these actions might be a step in the right direction, they don’t necessarily mean the later deadline will be implemented, according to Canadian Trucking Alliance CEO David Bradley. To become law, the bill would have to be adopted by both the US House of Representatives and Senate, and signed into law by the President.

“(Wednesday’s) action by the United States Senate does not in itself mean any change in the planned implementation of the land border component of the US Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI),” Bradley said. “What it does do is provide further recognition that a change of the magnitude contemplated in WHTI should only proceed after a thorough analysis of the impact the proposed measures will have, not just on US national security, but also on trade and commerce.”

Currently, WHTI requires all individuals entering the US by land to possess a passport or alternative documents sufficient to determine the individuals’ citizenship and identity by Jan. 1, 2008. The law underlying the requirement notes that measures adopted shall “seek to expedite the travel of frequent travellers.” This, according to CTA, can only be accomplished if there is a thorough examination of alternatives, field tests to determine the impact of alternative documents on border crossing times, and an extensive public education campaign to prepare individuals for the impending change. CTA also believes that WHTI goals can be accomplished without the introduction of new forms of identification for commercial truck drivers and has advocated that the FAST card, for example, be used as a passport alternative. This is currently under consideration.

“This is a positive step,” said Bradley. “But there are other alternatives out there as well, including documents every commercial truck driver already possesses namely, a driver’s license and birth certificate.” Though the US federal government has so far shown reluctance to pursue this course, various states and provinces have begun to consider how existing documentation could meet US requirements under WHTI. “Such alternatives should not be discarded in response to an arbitrary deadline that will not allow for adequate study,” said Bradley.

If the new delayed implementation date for WHTI becomes law, it would become the latest in a long line if US measures aimed at tightening border security that have had to be postponed.

Earlier this week, the US Customs & Border Protection Agency announced a delay in the Phase Four enforcement of the Trade Act. In Phase Four, carriers who are not participating in the Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) will no longer be able to rely on a copy of a fax transmission to a customs broker to indicate an attempt to comply with the Trade Act’s advance cargo information rules if they arrive at the border and CBP has not received advance cargo information. If CBP has not received advance cargo information from the broker when the truck arrives, the truck will not be allowed to proceed. This policy will apply at ACE-implemented ports, most notably Blaine, Pembina, and the Blue Water and Ambassador bridges, and surrounding, smaller ports. The deadline has been postponed temporarily until June 15, and will be implemented at other ports 30 days after the date ACE is deployed and operational.

The CTA is also still awaiting official word on how Canadian hazardous materials drivers will be expected to comply with new credentialing measures slated to come into force in early August.

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