Feds to require passport for U.S. land border crossings by 2008

| 4/6/2005

By 2008, truckers traveling over the Mexican or Canadian border may have to carry their passport to get back into the United States.

However, the requirement may not apply to those truckers who carry FAST credentials under the federal government’s Free and Secure Trade Program.

The new requirement is part of the Department of Homeland Security’s Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative; it was created by Congress in the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, also known as the 9/11 Intelligence Bill, which was signed into law Dec. 17, 2004.

In a news release, department officials said the agency would soon issue an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the plan, including a request for the public to submit ideas for what other documents could be used in place of a passport.

However, the department has already said it wants those documents to include FAST cards. The program is designed to help speed up freight movement across the border by prescreening drivers, avoiding long checks that cause other drivers to wait in line.

Elaine Dezenski, acting assistant secretary for border and transportation security policy for the Department of Homeland Security, told reporters that some aspects of the FAST card made it a good passport substitute for truckers: “background checks, documentation requirements and biometric requirements.” A final decision on including use of the FAST card will be made with the final rulemaking.

Implementation of the new passport requirement will start for air and sea travel by the end of 2005, but truckers will not be affected until Jan. 1, 2008. The rule will also require that foreign citizens crossing into the United States from other countries use a passport – even if entering from that country did not previously require one.

Federal officials say a key part of the program was finding a way to balance security with the need to move people and goods across the border quickly and efficiently.

“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,” Maura Harty, assistant secretary of state for consular affairs, said at a press conference announcing the new program. “The advanced notice of proposed rule making will allow these affected publics to voice concern and provide ideas for alternate documents acceptable under the law.

“The overarching need is to implement this legal requirement in a way that strengthens security while facilitating the movement of persons and goods.”