Businesses concerned about border ID requirements
06/02/09 7:34AM By Ross Sneyd
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(Host) New rules went into effect this week on the Canadian border that strictly limit what kinds of ID will be accepted to get into the United States.
Federal Homeland Security officials say the changes have gone smoothly.
But, as VPR's Ross Sneyd reports, some Vermont officials still aren't pleased with the new rules.
(Sneyd) This is a change that's been nearly two years in the making.
Long gone are the days of a quick chat with a border official before being waved into the US. It's not even possible anymore just to dig into your wallet for an ID.
Now, it's got to be the right kind of ID.
(Farquharson) "Most commonly it would be either a Canadian or a United States passport."
(Sneyd) Stephen Farquharson is New England director of field operations for US Customs and Border Protection.
(Farquharson) "For U.S. citizens, there is also a U.S. passport card, which many people, especially those who cross the border frequently, would apply for. ... In some states and provinces in Canada, and Vermont is one of those states, an enhanced drivers' license, which is a driver's license issued by a state not only for identity purposes, but also denotes citizenship.''
(Sneyd) This is all part of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, also known as "whitty" or WHTI.
That was adopted after the terrorist attacks of 2001 and was designed to make a fairly open border a little bit tighter.
(Farquharson) "That will help to ensure that the country is kept secure and people's entry is facilitated as quickly as possible."
(Sneyd) Facilitating people's entry has been a concern for a long time among people such as Senator Patrick Leahy.
He helped engineer congressional delays of the initiative and still worries about how easily people will be able to cross back and forth a border that in a region like this is little more than a line on a map.
(Leahy) "I think a lot of people are going to find that it's going to be a huge inconvenience at first. ... But that's what the law is, that's what the requirements are. Anybody having difficulty should call my office. We'll try to help them."
(Sneyd) Business groups have worried that the additional documentation requirements would keep Canadians at home.
Tim Shea is with the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce.
(Shea) "We want to make sure it's still convenient for Canadians to travel across the border, knowing that the world has changed and there's added security needed."
(Sneyd) Shea says the delays in requiring the new IDs have given travelers a chance to prepare and he's hopeful his worst fears won't come true.
Shea says he'll find out when Canadians typically head south on national and provincial holidays. The first big test comes in about three weeks when Quebec observes Saint Jean Baptiste Day.
For VPR News, I'm Ross Sneyd.