June 29, 2006

US Senate panel votes to delay border check program

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Senate panel voted on Thursday to
delay a post-September 11 border security program requiring
passports or other high-tech IDs for everyone entering the
United States following concerns about lagging technology and
poor coordination with Canada.

The Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously approved
the 17-month delay, until June 1, 2009, for fully implementing
the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, said a lack of
coordination among U.S. agencies and between Washington and
Ottawa requires the postponement to avoid a "train wreck on the

After the September 11 attacks on the United States, the
Bush administration moved to more closely check the millions of
people who travel by land into the country, raising concerns
that trade and tourism could suffer in North America.

For decades, people have freely crossed the 5,500-mile
(8,900-km) U.S.-Canada border, often with no security checks.

U.S. and Canadian citizens entering the United States by
land can show passports, drivers' licenses, birth certificates
and hundreds of other forms of identification that local
jurisdictions issue. Security experts prefer the use of
passports for fear that other documents are easily forged.

By December 31, 2007, passports or high-tech border cards
were supposed to be shown by everyone entering the United

But an aide to Leahy said that recent Bush administration
briefings indicated those deadlines could not be met, as
details about the security systems for identity cards and
equipment to read those cards at border stations still had not
been worked out.

Leahy's amendment was offered with Republican Sen. Ted
Stevens, whose Alaska constituents worry about the impact of a
new border security program as they have to pass through Canada
to travel to the U.S. mainland.

The senators' amendment would require the United States to
share "PASS Card" technology with the governments of Canada and
Mexico. Otherwise, only half the problem is taken care of by
the U.S. border security system, Leahy's aide said.

The plan to delay the new ID program also was included in a
recently passed Senate immigration reform bill. But with that
measure's clouded future, senators moved to attach it to two
must-do spending bills that will move through Congress this