Associations react to WHTI extension

by Canadian Shipper

OTTAWA, Ont. — The US Departments of State and Homeland Security have issued their long-anticipated proposed rule for land and sea travel to the US under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI). While the announcement includes the acceptance of a truck drivers FAST card as a passport alternative, the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) has criticized the plan for not removing several key uncertainties surrounding WHTI.

Under WHTI, US and Canadian citizens will require a passport or alternative document(s) to enter the US by land from Canada. The original deadline was Jan. 1, but under the proposal US and Canadian citizens will be able to cross the land border into the United States with a government issued photo ID card, along with proof of citizenship, until summer 2008. This would include, for example, a drivers license and birth certificate. WHTI-compliant documents, including a passport, FAST and NEXUS card will also be accepted.

Oral declarations will not be accepted after Jan. 31. It is expected that by summer 2008, only WHTI-compliant documents will be accepted.

There are a number of positive aspects to this proposal, said David Bradley, CEO of the CTA. All along CTA has advocated FAST as an alternative for commercial drivers and it now appears certain that this will become a reality. It also appears DHS and the State Department have recognized that with passport offices overloaded, and a little over six months until the original land border implementation date, they could not possibly go ahead on Jan. 1 as planned. Moreover, the US has not slammed the door on use of a security enhanced drivers license, which would be an attractive alternative not only for the trucking industry, but also passenger car drivers. We have long been concerned over the possibility of border disruptions if there are passenger vehicle bottlenecks as a result of WHTI requirements.

At the same time, the plans announced run up against recent actions in the US Congress. Last week, CTA joined a number of US and Canadian business groups under the umbrella of Americans for Better Borders in urging the House of Representatives to ensure proper implementation of the WHTI that guarantees security without sacrificing the economy. The House of Representatives subsequently voted overwhelmingly in favour of an extension of the land and sea provisions until at least June 2009 in order to ensure that adequate plans, staffing and technology are in place before land border implementation moves forward.

“Homeland Security’s ambitious rush ahead with its passport requirement is not grounded in reality,” said Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, chairwoman of the House Rules Committee. Rep. Slaughter has been the leading voice in Congress against WHTI. “The Administration has yet to complete the driver’s license pilot program in Washington State, or develop a low-cost alternative passport card. Until then, announcements like the one today are premature and serve to only further confuse the travelling public.

“Last week, the House overwhelmingly voted to delay WHTI until June 2009. It is important to remember that this extension has not been signed into law, and until then, I will continue fighting for common-sense crossing requirements at the northern border.”

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