By CONRAD WILSON
Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune
January 31, 2008
New Homeland Security regulations mean U.S. and Canadian citizens will no longer be able to use verbal declarations to enter the country. Instead, passengers in personal vehicles that cross the border will have to present both photo identification and proof of citizenship, such as a passport or birth certificate.
Up until now, no documentation was required to enter the United States by land or sea, according to Homeland Security officials, although border agents would sometimes ask for identification that could range from a driver's license to a library card.
The new plan has prompted protests from border states, including Minnesota.
Lawmakers had previously pushed back implementation of a new and even stricter set of guidelines called the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative until June 2009, but the DHS has stressed the need to phase in added security measures in the meantime.
In a letter sent Monday to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, senators from border states, including Minnesota's Republican Norm Coleman and Democrat Amy Klobuchar, decried the change. They noted that by creating a set of "interim standards," the DHS would only further confuse people living along the border and hurt local economies. The senators also criticized the DHS for not getting the word out to people living in rural areas who might not have time to get a copy of their birth certificate.
The changes have not been communicated well, said Shawn Mason, mayor of International Falls.
Mason praised members of Minnesota's congressional delegation as well as the head of the local Port Authority, who is a DHS employee, but said overall the agency has not reached out with any media campaign to local residents.
"If you think you're overdoing it, you're probably not touching the surface," she said.
In their letter, 19 senators claimed the new rules won't be worth the trouble they cause, calling them "a recipe for long lines at our nation's border crossings and reduced flow of commerce with no clear increase in security."
The letter also criticized the use of birth certificates as a form of identification, noting that between the border states and Canadian provinces, "there are 8,000 variations." Determining a document's authenticity at the border would be both time-consuming and difficult, the letter argued.
Over the past three years, 210 of 31,060 false citizenship claims occurred at crossings with Canada, according to DHS. The vast majority were along the U.S.-Mexico boarder.
The Department of Homeland Security rejected the lawmakers' criticism and said that the potential consequences of another terrorist attack outweigh long lines at border crossings.
"The current system puts an unfair burden on our front-line officers while allowing too much opportunity for criminals, illegal aliens and potential terrorists to slip into our country," Laura Keehner, a spokeswoman for the department, said in a statement.
"These core 9/11 Commission recommendations that we are implementing on January 31 are long overdue. We are working toward what the American public rightly expects: securing our borders and the homeland."
While Klobuchar and Coleman
agreed the country's security is important, they argued that
DHS has not considered the impact on local communities.
Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.scrippsnews.com
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