DETROIT -- The U.S. Secretaries of State and Homeland Security are likely to sign off by mid-August on a proposal for travel cards U.S. citizens would need to re-enter the country at border crossings, a State Department official said Thursday.
The proposal would be followed by a comment period, economic analysis and rule-making process that could have a new rule in place by the end of 2006, Frank E. Moss, deputy assistant secretary of passport services at the State Department, said during an informational session at the Detroit Regional Chamber.
Congress has set a Jan. 1, 2008, deadline for its Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative requiring U.S. citizens to carry travel documents at all air, sea and land border crossings.
Moss said the proposed travel card could cost less than half the price of a current U.S. Passport, which has a first-time application fee of $97 and is valid for 10 years. Americans could apply for the travel cards at any of 7,000 current passport application locations.
"Just like you need a driver license to drive a car, you're going to need this every time you cross the border," Moss said. "Not every U.S. citizen needs one, though I dare say in Detroit most people will need one."
The travel card would be valid for establishing a U.S. citizen's identity and nationality and also could have additional benefits, such as keeping track of current travel documents held by those who frequently cross the border.
The card would not amount to a national identification card, said Florence Fultz, director of field operations for passport services at the State Department. She said the card would not be mandatory and would store information much like that on a U.S. passport.
Moss said the card would feature its holder's photograph and have a chip that links to a database with other identifying information. It's not clear just what data would be stored in the database. Fingerprint data is being used at border crossings for visitors requiring a visa, but Moss said the administration has no current policy for fingerprinting Americans.
Moss said requiring a travel card would be more secure than the current policy of requiring a birth certificate and an identification card. He said border patrol officers often question the validity of birth certificates, which are issued from thousands of different agencies across the United States.
There are about 103 million border crossings each year, but Moss said there is no clear count of how many individuals that represents.
Canadians entering the United States also will be required to carry a Canadian-issued document to prove identity and nationality, likely a passport, Moss said. Roughly 38 percent of Canadians already carry passports, he said.
Canadian agencies have been working with U.S. officials on the issue, said Jasmine Panthanky, spokeswoman at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C.
"There are two main concerns," she said. "The border has to be secure but it also has to provide rapid access for tourists and the tremendous amount of business that crosses the border."