FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 22, 2007
Schumer Announces New Drive and New Legislation To Derail Disastrous Passport Rules
Schumer's New Comprehensive Legislation Would Set Tough Convenience and Affordability Standards and Close Loopholes that DHS is Exploiting to Rush Into New Passport Requirements
Standing with Buffalo business and cultural leaders, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer announced new comprehensive legislation that would ensure that DHS cannot impose the passport requirement before June 2009 and would set tough new convenience and affordability requirements. Schumer said that DHS is trying to use a loophole in the law to act as early as January 2008 to impose a rule requiring travelers to present a passport when crossing the Northern Border, despite a troubling lack of preparation on DHS's part. Schumer said that his legislation will remove this uncertainty in the law and also create pilot programs to test the feasibility of using a Daypass or an enhanced driver's license as alternatives to requiring a passport so the security goals of WHTI can be achieved without slowing down travel and commerce.
"We need to stop DHS once and for all from rushing headlong into new rules that could well be disastrous," Schumer said. "Right now, DHS is trying to do an end-run around the will of the people of Western New York, northern border communities across the country, and the intent of the United States Congress. DHS needs to go back to the drawing board and come up with a proposal that achieves the security goals of WHTI without crippling cross-border commerce for a generation. My legislation will beat back any effort by DHS to rush this rule through and will set vital convenience and affordability requirements for any future proposals."
Schumer's new comprehensive legislation would block any effort by DHS to implement a passport requirement before June 2009. Just last year, Congress pushed back the deadline for WHTI implementation from January 1, 2008 to June1, 2009 due to ample evidence that DHS would be hard-pressed to meet the 2008 deadline. But under this amended law, DHS still has the discretion to finalize and impose the WHTI rules earlier if it can make specific certifications relating to the technology, reliability, and security of the system. DHS is known to be exploiting this provision of the law and rushing through development and planning in order to meet these requirements and start demanding passports at land borders in January 2008, a year and half early.
Schumer's legislation would minimize uncertainty and mandate that WHTI rules cannot be implemented at land crossings any earlier than June 1, 2009. This extra time is sorely needed for DHS to ensure that WHTI can be implemented without disrupting cross-border commerce and travel. In addition, DHS would have to certify six months in advance of final implementation that it has met comprehensive efficiency and security guidelines. If DHS fails to meet these standards prior to June 1, 2009, then WHTI cannot enter into force until DHS can meet these important guidelines.
Some of the requirements include:
Economic Impact - DHS and DOS must commission independent evaluations of (1) the economic impact of WHTI on each state with an international border and on the entire US and of (2) the privacy and security risks of their preferred technology for any travel document intended as a documentary alternative to a passport book to be acquired by U.S. citizens. These evaluations must be completed, provided to Congress, and made publicly available at least 6 months before WHTI implementation.
Enhanced Driver's License - DHS and DOS must complete a pilot project in at least one location to determine whether a state may enhance their driver's license process to meet WHTI requirements. Participation in such a project must be voluntary for individuals obtaining the licenses. DHS and DOS must report to Congress on the results of this pilot project and must incorporate the results into all final rulemakings issued for WHTI.
Technology -DHS and DOS must complete and submit to Congress a plan for how WHTI will leverage existing infrastructure and technology that is already installed at the borders or slated for installation, including the technology for use with the ePassport issued by DOS. If the planned method of implementing WHTI will require new infrastructure or technology, DHS and DOS must submit an explanation of why the existing infrastructure and technology is not being used.
Smooth Transition - DHS must provide Congress with a plan for transitioning to WHTI implementation in a way that will achieve security objectives while minimizing the disruption to commerce and travel caused by a sudden change in border crossing procedures. This plan must include a public education campaign that begins at least 3 months prior to the implementation of WHTI rules at any land border and must include provisions for a "grace period" during which travelers can return home to the US even if they forget their new documents.
Card Readers - DHS must certify that any card readers they plan to purchase meet standards for security and interoperability set by the International Standards Organization.
The bill would state that any card or identification document required under WHTI as a passport alternative would cost the user no more than $20 for adults and would be free to children under the age of 18. If children under the age of 18 do not wish to obtain a PASS Card, then they would be exempt from the WHTI documentary requirement.
Schumer said that DHS current plan does not effectively balance the needs for improved border security and the need for efficient cross border commerce. "I fully support efforts to improve security along our borders; however, we must at the same time protect commerce and the way of life along the border," Schumer added.
The United States and Canada have the largest bi-national trade relationship in the world. Trade with Canada supports an estimated 350,000 jobs in New York alone. Fully 25% of all New York State exports, accounting for $10.5 billion, go to Canada every year. The impact of tourism and spur-of-the-moment trips is also staggering with Canadians accounting for 2.2 million visits to New York in 2002 injecting $389 million into the local economies.
Schumer was joined by Rich Geiger, President, Buffalo Convention/Visitors Bureau; Luke Rich, BiNational Tourism Alliance (BTA); Jack Ampuja Chair, Logistics Council for Buffalo Niagara Partnership; Paul Koessler Vice Chair, Public Bridge Authority; Kerry Mitchell, Political/Economic and Public Affairs, Canadian Consulate General; Larry Quinn from the Buffalo Sabres; Bill Munson, VP Public Affairs, Buffalo Bills; Ken Woodruff and Barrie Laver, BTA; Louis Grachos, Director, Albright Knox Art Gallery.
In January, Schumer submitted a formal comment criticizing the Department of State's proposed rule regarding the new PASS Card and laid out eight steps the State Department should take before any final rule is implemented. In his comment, Schumer said the proposed PASS Card will offer all of the inconvenience and inefficiencies of a standard passport book, while providing none of the security assurances for individuals' private information. Schumer, who added that PASS cards could be cost prohibitive for the average family, specifically asked that the State Department conduct an economic impact study on the economies in upstate New York and other border states and bring in an independent auditor to evaluate the entire program. The State Department has offered the PASS Card as a possible alternative to passports required under WHTI.