The U.S. Senate has taken a step toward delaying new border security rules of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, and it might make other adjustments to the law as well.
Under the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, beginning after December 31, 2006, travelers to and from the Caribbean, Bermuda, Panama, Mexico, and Canada — via sea or air — must have a passport or other accepted document to enter or re-enter the United States. After December 31, 2007, that requirement extends to all land border crossings.
Legislators, businesses, and travel and tourism professionals are particularly concerned about the effect the latter deadline will have on travel between the United States and Canada. Two U.S. senators from states bordering Canada — Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Ted Stevens, R-Alaska — filed an amendment that would extend the land border crossing deadline from December 2007 to May 31, 2009. “Sen. Leahy has called [the deadline] a ‘train wreck on the horizon,’” said David Carle, a spokesman for the Vermont legislator.
The Senate passed that amendment, and attached it to the Senate immigration bill, which was passed by the Senate on May 25. The immigration bill must still be reconciled with the version passed by the House of Representatives.
In the meantime, senators have filed other WHTI-related pieces of legislation. For example, Sens. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, introduced an amendment that would require the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security to certify that the program is ready before it is implemented. This means, according to Coleman's office, that the program could not go into effect “until it could be certified that border-crossing documents have been distributed to people who want them, that the border patrol is ready to accept them, that sufficient public outreach has been done, and that a pilot program has been conducted.”
And Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., has introduced the Common Sense Cross-Border Travel and Security Act of 2006, which would exempt children under 18 from the passport card requirement, create a system of free day-passes for travel to Canada, and cap the cost of a new passport identification card at $20.
The Travel Industry Association of America supports the Leahy and Stevens amendment. Rick Webster, director of government affairs at TIA, says more time is needed for the U.S and Canadian governments to develop the travel documents needed to comply with the law and to prevent any disruption of travel between the countries.