Passport rule reform backed by Canadian officials

WASHINGTON — Canadian truckers’ most powerful U.S. ally in opposing mandatory passports for cross-border travel met with her northern counterparts to discuss how to fix the looming initiative.

Rep. Louise M. Slaughter (D-NY), Chairwoman of the House Rules Committee, met with Michael Wilson, Canadian Ambassador to the US; Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty; Shawn Graham,Premier of New Brunswick; and Manitoba leader Gary Doer this week. They discussed how to protect billions in cross-border trade under the restrictive plans.

A new bill, Protecting American Commerce and Travel Act (PACT), authored by Rep. Slaughter and Rep. John McHugh. is designed to reform the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which requires Canadians and Americans to show a passport when entering the U.S.

“WHTI is a looming crisis that has the potential to greatly harm the strong and mutually-beneficial relationship America has long shared with Canada,” Rep. Slaughter said. “We must do all we can to prevent this crisis from reaching the breaking point.”

Unfortunately, Homeland security is still moving forward with “their deeply flawed plan.” Congress must force the plan back to drawing board, Rep. Slaughter continued.

Slaughter’s Act requires that DHS complete at least one pilot project to determine if a jurisdiction may enhance its driver’s license to meet WHTI standards. DHS has agreed to conduct such a pilot project in Washington state, but they maintain that WHTI will be implemented by January 2008 — long before the pilot project has been completed.

However, the law, signed by President Bush in 2004, was pushed back 17 months to June 1, 2009 for people crossing by land.

Furthermore, the reformed plan would exempt travelers and truckers under frequent traveler programs like NEXUS and FAST.

The Canadian Trucking Alliance as well as the American Trucking Associations argue truckers with FAST cards should not have to comply with the passport requirement since those drivers and carriers already have to clear very similar security background checks.

It would also require DHS/State to complete a cost-benefit analysis of their final WHTI plan before implementation.

“We all agreed that WHTI has many flaws, and in its current form has the potential to harm the strong and mutually-beneficial relationship the United States has long shared with Canada. I am afraid that DHS (has) lost sight of this special friendship,” Slaughter said later in a keynote address. “Making matters worse, we have a limited amount of time to fix WHTI.”

“I can’t, for the life of me, figure out how DHS and State are going to justify this move.”

The two agencies, says Slaughter continue to disagree on the type of technology to embed in the new passport card, which is being discussed as an alternative to passports.

A better strategy to increase border security is to make C-TPAT and FAST more attractive to commercial carriers and shippers. “Unfortunately, the United States and Canada have done little to encourage enrollment in these programs or bring them to additional ports-of-entry,” she said. “That’s why the PACT Act will expand NEXUS and FAST, and address the barriers that are prohibiting them from reaching their full potential.”

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