Last-ditch appeal made to drop new border plan

WASHINGTON—U.S. senators made a last-ditch appeal to the Bush administration yesterday, asking security officials to delay plans requiring new documents at the Canada-U.S. border starting Thursday.
A bi-partisan coalition of 19 senators sent a letter to U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, urging him to continue accepting oral declarations of citizenship until the passport rule goes into effect in June, 2009.
Last week, legislators in the House of Representatives also complained to Chertoff, saying the measures will threaten trade and tourism for many states at a critical time when the United States is in danger of slipping into a recession.
Starting Thursday, all adults entering the U.S. by land and sea will have to show a government-issued photo ID card plus proof of citizenship, like a birth certificate.
Youths 18 years old and younger don’t need the government identification.
U.S. legislators say Chertoff’s move betrays the spirit of legislation they passed late last year to delay requiring everyone travelling to the U.S. by car or boat to show a passport at the border.
“They already have done damage by their mishandling of this but it is not too late for common sense,” said Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy.
“As far as security on the northern border is concerned, they are putting mindless macho over meaningful security,” he charged. “There is enormous downside and very little upside to the new hoops they want to put everyone through.”
“National security, economic security, and common sense do not have to be mutually-exclusive goals, but they seem to be at DHS,’’ argued Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens.
“While we all want to deter terrorists from entering our country, it is clear that federal agencies, and border agents in particular, just aren’t prepared to handle the new demands being placed on them by Secretary Chertoff.”
Chertoff defended the move in a recent interview with The Canadian Press, saying the interim step is a “reasonable” alternative to more drastic measures like a border shutdown if a terrorist were to slip through and attack.
The senators told Chertoff it would make more sense to drop the requirement and simply focus on passport alternatives, like enhanced driver’s licences—something several provinces and states are interested in developing.
Americans will be offered a passport card this spring that costs less.
“We understand the need for travellers to continue presenting government-issued identification cards at the border,” said the letter to Chertoff, “but the DHS has done a poor job promoting its significant change in citizenship document requirements.
“We are particularly concerned that citizens in rural areas may not be aware of this new requirement and might not have time to obtain a copy of their birth certificate by Feb. 1,” it added.
Chertoff has said people who show up at the border without the required documents for the first few weeks will be given an information letter and may face some additional screening.