Initiative steps up ID requirements for U.S. citizens, neighbors

Citizens of the United States, Canada, Mexico and Bermuda will be required to present a passport, "laser visa" Border Crossing Card or other new, additional identity document when entering the United States under the new Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, introduced today by the Bush administration.

Currently, U.S. citizens may re-enter the United States without a passport if traveling within the Western Hemisphere. Canadians also may enter without a passport, presenting either a birth certificate or driver's license.

Under the new requirements, affected populations must present either a passport, which will be the "document of choice," or a Border Crossing Card, known as the "laser visa," or possibly other documentation, stated a news release from the Department of Homeland Security.

Currently, the border-crossing card serves in lieu of a passport and visa for Mexicans traveling to the United States.

"Other documents that we anticipate will be acceptable under this Initiative are the Customs and Border Protection Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection, Nexus and Free and Secure Trade program cards," the department news release said.

Additional identity documents are being considered, though none have been approved yet, the department said.

"We are using new technologies to create other acceptable travel documents and identifying and reviewing current documentation that may also be acceptable. We will make public additional travel document options as they become available," the news release said. "Ultimately, all documents used for travel to the United States are expected to include biometrics that can be used to authenticate the document and verify identity."

The new requirements must be in place by Jan. 1, 2008.

The department is issuing an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the plan and requesting comments. A more formal rulemaking will be issued later this year. The Bush administration is developing the new initiative as directed by the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004.

"Our goal is to strengthen border security and expedite entry into the United States for U.S. citizens and legitimate foreign visitors," said Randy Beardsworth, DHS' acting undersecretary for border and transportation security.

"We recognize the implications this might have for industry, business and the general public, as well as our neighboring countries, and they are important partners in this initiative," said Maura Harty, assistant secretary of state for consular affairs, in the news release. "The advanced notice of proposed rulemaking will allow these affected publics to voice concern and provide ideas for alternate documents acceptable under the law."

By Dec. 31, the new rules will be in place for all air and sea travel to or from the Caribbean, Bermuda, Central and South America. By Dec. 31, 2006, it will apply to air and sea travel to or from Mexico and Canada, and by Dec. 31, 2007, it will apply to all air, sea and land border crossings.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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