DHS and the State of Washington Team up to Advance Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has signed a Memorandum of Agreement with the state of Washington to launch a pilot program that will enhance the security of state drivers’ licenses and potentially serve as an acceptable alternative document for crossing the United States’ land and sea borders.
The Washington pilot program is one possible compliance alternative to Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) requirements. As early as January 2008, U.S. citizens reentering the U.S. from Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, or Bermuda by land or sea, including ferries, may be required to present a valid U.S. passport or other documents as determined by the DHS.
“The foundation of terrorist and criminal activity is the ability to move undetected,” says Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. “We’re striking at that foundation with secure documentation requirements at our borders that enable our frontline personnel to focus more effectively on the people and things that intend to do us harm. Security and efficiency at our borders can be harmonized, and I appreciate Washington’s leadership in realizing this goal.”
The pilot project aims to boost security at U.S. borders without hampering trade and tourism, particularly important with the upcoming 2009 World Police and Fire Fighter Games and the 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympics in British Columbia.
Under the agreement, the state of Washington will develop an enhanced driver’s license that will provide Washington residents, who voluntarily apply and qualify, with a document that is acceptable for use at U.S. land and sea ports. The enhanced driver’s license will be slightly more expensive than a standard Washington state driver’s license and will require proof of citizenship, identity, and residence, as well as contain security features similar to a U.S. passport.
The 9/11 Commission endorsed secure documentation for determining admissibility into the country, and Congress mandated WHTI implementation in the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004. At present, U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel consider more than 8,000 distinct state issued birth certificates, drivers’ licenses, or other forms of identification when making decisions on who and what to admit into the country.
The DHS implemented WHTI air requirements in January 2007 for citizens of the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Bermuda. Citizens from these countries must now present a passport to enter the United States when arriving by air from any part of the Western Hemisphere. To date, there has been near one-hundred percent compliance with WHTI air requirements.