DHSmay halt passport req’s until June 2009

Published on Thu, Aug 16, 2007 by ara Nelson

Read More News

DHS may halt passport req’s until June 2009

By Tara Nelson

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is seeking public comments for an extension of the passport requirement implementation scheduled to begin as early as January 2008.

The requirements – part of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) – would require a passport at all U.S. land and sea border crossings. The new rule would extend the January implementation deadline to summer of 2008 or later.

The rule change comes after trade and business groups on both sides of the border raised concerns about impacts as a result of loss of trade and tourism revenue from Canadian visitors – especially with regard to the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Ken Oplinger, a Blaine resident and president of the Bellingham/Whatcom Chamber of Commerce, said the proposal is a good start but the lack of a specific implementation date could lend to the confusion already surrounding the border rules

As of now, WHTI requires all individuals crossing the U.S. border by air travel to possess a U.S. passport. A driver’s license or birth certificate is currently required at all land and sea crossings.

“There are certain things in this rule that we’ve been lobbying for,” Oplinger said. “But a major point of contention is the fact they want to implement the rule by summer of 2008. We were hoping they would give a more specific date.”

Another issue, he said, was the economic study that was completed by DHS.

The study, outlined on page 70 of the agency’s 113-page report, uses eight northern and southern case studies to examine regional changes in economic activity and estimates a $200 million loss by forgone Canadian travelers to northern border areas in 2008.

Southern border areas, meanwhile, could expect a multi-million dollar benefit as Americans may be less likely to take vacations in Mexico.
Oplinger argued that because the study averages the total economic impact of both northern and southern border communities, the numbers are an unfair representation of how bordertowns here will fare.

“So in order to show there is no negative economic impact, they grouped all border communities together,” he said. “Something has to be done to address that.”
A $10 million-loss

Meanwhile, a January 2006 report completed by the Border Policy Research Institute at Western Washington University predicted the expense and inconvenience of mandating a secure document such as a passport could result in a net loss of $10 million-per year in the amount of goods and services purchased by Canadian visitors to Whatcom County alone. A similar study by the B.C. Council of Tourism Associates predicts that the passport requirement will likely result in $3.6 million in lost tourism receipts to British Columbia.
U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, a member of the Northern Border Caucus, agreed. In June, Larsen voted on a Homeland Security appropriations bill that would delay requirements until June of 2009.

“The recent passport debacle is proof positive that the Departments of Homeland Security and state don’t have their acts together when it comes to implementing WHTI,” he said in a statement. “Northern border communities can’t afford these kinds of problems.”

How to submit a comment

To make submitting comments easier, Oplinger, also a member of the Business for Economic Security, Tourism and Trade (BESTT) coalition, has created a web site with links to the official proposal, sample response letters and contact information for submissions.

“It is our goal to show strong interest in this issue by having thousands of comments submitted before the deadline of August 27,” Oplinger said. “This will lend weight to our efforts in Congress to extend the final deadline for implementation until June of 2009, giving more time for alternative documents to be developed and implemented, and ensuring the free and fair flow of trade and traffic over the border.”

The web site can be viewed at www.besttcoalition.com/NPRMComments.html.