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
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Washington, DC 20528
Dear Secretary Chertoff:
We understand that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) intends to end its long established practice of accepting oral declarations of citizenship at our nation's land and sea ports of entry on January 31, 2008 . In its place, the DHS plans to require travelers to present documentary proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate, in order to gain entry into the United States . While we understand the department's desire for greater documentation of travelers coming through our nation's borders, we seriously question the timing of this dramatic policy change.
For many years, Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents have accepted oral declarations of citizenship from travelers entering the United States , and they have had the authority to ask for proof of citizenship when necessary. Since there are nearly 8,000 variations of birth certificates issued by various states, provinces, and localities in the United States and Canada , determining the authenticity of a birth certificate provided at the border is a daunting task for our already overstretched CBP agents. Creating an interim standard -- much less one without an aggressive public relations campaign to inform the traveling public -- will further complicate implementation of definitive citizenship standards.
Recognizing that determining the authenticity of 8,000 possible birth certificates is a serious challenge, Congress and the Administration sought to require that an alternative document be produced that would secure our border while not impeding the flow of commerce and traffic through enactment of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI). Unfortunately, the planning, design, and implementation of the WHTI has not moved forward at a pace that would match the original deadline provided to the agencies of January 2008 . That is why Congress has now provided the Administration with more time by ensuring that the requirement for a passport or comparable documentation such as a passport card may not be implemented until June 2009 .
We find it troubling that the DHS is trying to move forward in the interim with a plan to require proof of citizenship at the border prior to the successful implementation of a secure alternative to a passport. By trying to impose this requirement, the Administration will exacerbate the current confusion that the WHTI and the passport card are designed to avoid. Asking our CBP agents to implement this when an alternative and more secure passport card is not even available yet is unfair, and is likely to distract officers from other, more effective border inspection procedures. The new interim procedures are a recipe for long lines at our nation's border crossings and reduced flow of commerce with no clear increase in security.
In conclusion, we understand the need for travelers to continue presenting government-issued identification cards at the border, but the DHS has done a poor job promoting its significant change in citizenship document requirements. We are particularly concerned that citizens in rural areas may not be aware of this new requirement and might not have time to obtain a copy of their birth certificate by February 1 . Thus, we request that the DHS continue to accept oral declarations and government-issued photo identification cards as proof of citizenship for Western Hemisphere citizens until full implementation of the WHTI.
SOURCE Office of U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy