New York, other states prefer computerized driver’s licenses to passports

| 6/27/2007

New York is poised to follow the state of Washington into a new era of border security and personal identification.

It’s called an enhanced driver’s license, and it contains a computer chip containing proof of citizenship and identification that travelers can present to border authorities.

The Department of Homeland Security’s border rules outlined in the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative have required you to have a passport since Jan. 23 if you fly into a U.S. airport from out of country, regardless of where you’re from. Recently the federal government announced that U.S. citizens who have applied for passports but have not received them can present traditional forms of ID and proof of their passport applications until Sept. 30, 2007.

The DHS had planned to require passports for land and sea travelers as early as Jan. 1, 2008, but that deadline has shifted to at least summer 2008, according to a rulemaking announcement by the Department of Homeland Security.

“The precise implementation date will be formally announced with at least 60 days notice,” Homeland Security officials stated in a notice issued June 20.

One of the reasons for the delay, according to DHS, is a backlog of passport applications that requires processing time.

Like Washington state and now New York, two dozen states are looking to implement enhanced driver’s licenses to substitute for the passport requirement, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said during a press conference last week.

Chertoff met with Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-NY, to discuss a pending agreement for enhanced licenses. Chertoff could sign off on the New York program within the next month, according to the National Journal.

Chertoff previously authorized the Washington program.

There are current substitutes for a passport, including a Merchant Mariner Document, Alien Registration Card Form I-551, a NEXUS air card, a FAST card or U.S. Military traveling orders.

In addition to the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, the Department of Homeland Security has also provided a “Notice of Proposed Rulemaking” in the Federal Register for the Real ID program, which could one day be required at entry points to vulnerable facilities such as borders and power plants.

– By David Tanner, staff writer