WASHINGTON, Jan. 28 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Led by U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), a bipartisan group of 19 senators Monday urged U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff to pull the plug on new border requirements that he plans to impose beginning this Thursday.
The senators -- eight Democratic senators, 10 Republican senators, and one independent senator -- ask Chertoff to continue accepting oral declarations of citizenship and government-issued photo ID cards at U.S. borders until full implementation of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) in June 2009 . Starting Jan. 31 , to enter the United States at U.S. land borders travelers will have to present documentary proof of citizenship as well as government-issued photo identification cards.
DHS's plans to require birth certificates -- which Chertoff himself has said are especially easy to forge -- would take effect just weeks after enactment of the Leahy-Stevens law that moves the WHTI land-crossing phase forward 17 months. Leahy and others believe the new requirements violate the spirit of that law and squander the opportunity it offers to fix WHTI before its next phases are implemented.
Leahy said, "They already have done damage by their mishandling of this, but it is not too late for common sense. As far as security on the Northern Border is concerned, they are putting mindless macho over meaningful security. There is enormous downside and very little upside to the new hoops they want to put everyone through on the Canadian border. These 'paper padlocks' won't make us safer. With rising concerns about a recession, they also risk pushing several states over the brink with their incompetent handling of Northern Border security. National security, economic security and common sense do not have to be mutually exclusive goals, but they seem to be at DHS."
Stevens said, "The Department of Homeland Security's insistence on the hasty implementation of new border security measures is short-sighted. While we all want to deter terrorists from entering our country, it is clear that federal agencies, and border agents in particular, just aren't prepared to handle the new demands being placed on them by Secretary Chertoff. Worse yet, the American public isn't ready. Many citizens aren't aware of the rule changes and others living in remote areas do not even possess birth certificates. If these new requirements go into effect at the end of this month, travel to and from Alaska and other border states will be severely crippled. I strongly urge Secretary Chertoff to reconsider his decision to move forward with this ill-conceived plan."
Schumer said, "DHS is expending valuable time and resources to demand notoriously insecure birth certificates at the border, during a time when Secretary Chertoff should be focusing on developing new and secure travel documents that could actually improve efficiency at our ports of entry. It is indefensible for the Secretary to be promoting yesterday's tools, when tomorrow's technology is within reach. Secretary Chertoff should get his eye back on the ball and reconsider his rush to tie up our border crossings with a deluge of flimsy and easily forged birth certificates."
The letter was signed by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.); Ted Stevens (R-Alaska); Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.); Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio); Norm Coleman (R-Minn.); Susan Collins (R-Maine); Larry Craig (R-Idaho); Mike Crapo (R-Idaho); Pete Domenici (R-N.M.); Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.); Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.); Carl Levin (D-Mich.); Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska); Patty Murray (D-Wash.); Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.); Olympia Snowe (R-Maine); John Sununu (R-N.H.); George Voinovich (R-Ohio); and Chris Dodd (D-Conn.).
The text of the senators' letter follows:
January 28, 2008
The Honorable Michael Chertoff