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Homeland Security

19 January 2006

United States To Begin Issuing New, Secure Passport Cards in 2006

Cards will meet proposed Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative requirements

By Anthony Kujawa
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- The United States anticipates issuing a new, secure passport card for land border crossings by the end of 2006, an alternative to the traditional passport book that will meet the proposed documentation requirements of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, according to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Michael Chertoff.

“[A]s we add these new documentation requirements … we want to make sure we're doing it in a way that continues to support the free movement of people and cargo across the border,” Chertoff said at the State Department January 17, announcing with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice a joint vision for secure borders and open doors in the information age.

The three-part plan to welcome visitors to the United States without compromising security, aims to renew America’s welcome with improved technology and efficiency; develop travel documents for the 21st century; and create “smarter screening” of travelers. (See related article and fact sheet.)

Chertoff said the passport card will meet the statutory mandates of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which stipulates that anyone applying for admission to the United States, including U.S. citizens, must present secure travel documents that denote citizenship and serve as proof of identity.  Other forms of identification, less secure than a passport, historically have been accepted for citizens of the United States, Canada, Mexico and Bermuda.

Officials say the goal of the program is to strengthen border security and make it faster and simpler for U.S. citizens and foreign travelers both to enter and leave the United States. 

The program stems from the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, signed into law by President Bush in December 2004.  The 2004 law mandated that the secretary of homeland security, in consultation with the secretary of state, develop and implement a plan to require U.S. citizens and foreign nationals to present a passport or other secure document when entering the United States, regardless of the country of origin. 

Homeland Security and State formally proposed regulations to implement the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative September 1, 2005. If adopted, those regulations would take effect in phases, applying the new passport or secure document requirement to air and sea travel to or from Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean and Bermuda as of December 31, 2006.  By December 31, 2007, the passport requirement would extend to all land border crossings. (See related article.)

SEARCH FOR “INEXPENSIVE, EFFICIENT, INTEROPERABLE” SYSTEM

Rice and Chertoff formally announced that the United States is committed to making a cheaper, secure alternative to the passport book by 2006 for U.S. citizens in border communities who frequently cross land borders. 

“We continue to consult very closely with our Canadian and Mexican partners in the Security and Prosperity Partnership and with our other allies in this part of the world about how to best facilitate border movement in a way that is consistent with the law and security,” Chertoff said.

“[O]ur first step is to develop an inexpensive, efficient, interoperable travel card system,” he added. 

The Homeland Security secretary said the passport card would be particularly useful for those citizens in border communities who regularly cross northern and southern borders.  “We're talking about essentially like the kind of driver's license or other simple card identification that almost all of us carry in our wallets day in and day out,” he said. 

Chertoff called the passport card “an important first step” in implementing a broader shared vision for a unified, user-friendly system for “trusted travelers.” 

He also said the United States is working to establish a global enrollment network that will unify the various registered traveler programs into a single comprehensive system. 

“The idea here is to get necessary information only one time from an applicant, and then create a system and architecture that allows both DHS and State Department officers to get access to this data to confirm the traveler's identity,” he said.

The State Department anticipates that the border-crossing cards currently in use -- also known as a "laser visa" -- will continue to be acceptable as a substitute for a passport and a visa for citizens of Mexico traveling into the United States from across the Mexican border.  The department also anticipates that existing documents used at land border crossings in international frequent traveler programs known by the acronyms SENTRI, NEXUS and FAST will be accepted.  Although the three programs vary slightly, they are based on the same principle of pre-screening and identifying low-risk travelers so they can cross the international border without having to go through the traditional inspections process.

Through a “unified architecture,” Chertoff said the United States aims to decrease wait times at ports of entry and focus resources on that minority of people who pose a threat.

Additional information is available on the Web site of the departments of Homeland Security and State.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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