US SENATE PANEL VOTES TO DELAY CANADIAN BORDER CHECK PROGRAM
By Richard Cowan
Thu Jun 29, 5:16 PM ET
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
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 horizon."
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 year.