Congressmulls different border bills

Published on Thu, Sep 28, 2006 by MegOlson

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Congress mulls different border bills

By Meg Olson

The final version of the new homeland security spending bill, due to be voted on before Congress ends its regular session this week, includes a reprieve for travelers crossing U.S. land borders without a passport.
Conferees from the House of Representatives and the Senate worked to reconcile widely different approaches to the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI).

The Senate version of the appropriations bill included amendments by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) and Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) that would delay the requirement for a passport at land borders and require further delays if certain measures aren’t implemented to streamline and simplify the transition.

The House version of the bill did not. The final version of the bill agreed to by conferees retains the Leahy-Stevens language, but Leahy press secretary David Carl warned that “there’s a serious effort to remove it,” by house Republicans.

If approved by Congress and signed by the President the new language would initially delay the passport requirement at land and sea borders until June 2009.

The requirement is scheduled to be in place at air and seaports in January 2007 and a year later at all other ports of entry. Air travelers will still need a passport after January 2007, with or without the new legislation.

Implementation of the passport requirement and the new PASS card system, which would create a new secure travel document as an alternative to a traditional passport, would also be delayed until seven conditions are met: standardized technology; collaboration with Canada and Mexico; a card useable for all land and sea travel in North America, the Caribbean and Bermuda; justification of a fee for the new card; procedures for groups of children traveling without their parents, such as the Point Roberts school bus; infrastructure and training at all ports to streamline processing of the new travel documents; a unified implementation date for all land and sea borders.

Both Senator Maria Cantwell and Representative Rick Larsen want to see the language stay in the final bill.

“As co-chair of Washington state’s 2010 Olympics Task Force, my goal is to ensure a safe and secure border that facilitates the free flow of travel and commerce,” Larsen said, adding that if WHTI was implemented without the amendments it could “create a logistical nightmare for Washington state and slow the economic benefits we hope to gain from the 2010 Olympics.”

Larsen also said that, “while it would be ideal to extend the WHTI implementation deadline until after the 2010 Olympics, this language still provides us a greater opportunity to go right where the administration has gone wrong. An extension to implementing the new document requirements under the WHTI is a step in the right direction.
This extension will give Congress more time to address border security concerns while also considering Washington state commerce and travel between the U.S. and Canada during the 2010 Olympic Games.”

Another bill that Congress will be considering in its last week in session is the Secure Fence Act of 2006, directing the department of homeland security to “achieve operational control over U.S. borders.”
Measures include a physical barrier along the southern border and a study to determine the feasibility of a “state of the art infrastructure security system” on the northern border.
Larsen and Cantwell both said they would work to see the language in the bill changed. “Building a 700 mile fence is not the answer to securing our borders,” Larsen said.

“This legislation only detracts resources and attention away from the real needs of our borders. Strong border security starts with well-trained professional border personnel and modern assets.

“It is time for Congress to provide real solutions to problems that have already been identified along our northern border. If we are serious about increasing the security along our border, we should focus federal resources into technologies such as ground based sensors, unmanned aerial vehicles and cameras to combat law breakers on our borders.”