Letter of support for Leahy/Stevens WHTI Provisions in Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Bill of 2007 (H.R. 5441)

July 27, 2006
On behalf of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (“Chamber”), the Americans for Better Borders coalition and the following groups listed below, we write in support of the Senate’s fiscal year 2007 Homeland Security Appropriations bill language regarding the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (“WHTI”), also known as the Leahy/Stevens provisions.
The Chamber is the world’s largest business federation, representing more than three million businesses and organizations of every size, sector, and region. The Chamber’s federation includes approximately 2,800 state and local chambers of commerce throughout the United States, 830 business associations, and 104 American Chambers of Commerce in 87 countries. The Americans for Better Borders (“ABB”) coalition unites regional business organizations and a wide array of companies and national trade associations representing manufacturing, hospitality, tourism, transportation, recreation and other industry sectors.
Current law requires the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) and the Department of State (“DoS”) to promulgate new regulations requiring travelers— including American citizens—entering or re-entering the U.S. from Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean to present a document or combination of documents denoting both identity and citizenship by January 1, 2008. The Chamber and Americans for Better Borders still believe that a non-discretionary state issued document, such as a modified driver’s license or identity card developed in coordination with the federal government, is the best alternative to meet the statutory requirements. However, current law also gives DHS and DoS discretion to develop low-cost and easily obtainable federally issued documents for travelers, allowing for safe travel without over-burdening border communities, international trade, and the travel and tourism industry.
The Leahy/Stevens provisions are important for the business community because they set clear guidelines for DHS and DoS to follow. First, as reported by the Government Accountability Office, DHS and DoS are far behind in implementing WHTI by January 1, 2007 for sea and air travel and January 1, 2008 for land border crossings. Thus, one of the Leahy/Stevens provisions would establish a uniform implementation date of June 1, 2009 for sea and land travel. While the summer is a high-travel season and we would prefer a date later on during the year for the changes to take place, a uniform deadline with an additional 17 months of planning is an appropriate step forward to ensure DHS and DoS get WHTI right the first time around.
The Leahy/Stevens provisions also give DHS and DoS clear instructions for successfully implementing a new “passport card” system. Specifically, these provisions would set limits on the cost of the passport card for American citizens, so it would be an economical substitute to a passport; specifically require DoS and DHS to permit cruise passengers to use the passport card; establish a uniform implementation date for land and sea travel to ensure the availability of the passport card prior to implementation; require DHS to share the passport card technology with Canada and Mexico and install passport card readers at all ports of entry; and establish alternative procedures for groups of children traveling across the border with parental consent.
However, one part of the Leahy/Stevens provisions would require the electronic components of the passport card to comply with ISO 14443, an international interoperability standard, not a security standard. If Congress keeps this requirement, the law would narrow the potential set of solutions for the passport card system. Instead, Congress should support a competitive process that selects the best possible passport card solution. In that spirit, we ask that ISO 14443 references be removed from H.R. 5441.
Given the importance of these provisions, we urge you to make certain that the Senate’s WHTI language is retained in the final conference report for the fiscal year 2007 Homeland Security Appropriations bill, H.R. 5441. Thank you for your consideration of this request and, if you need any additional information, please do not hesitate to contact
Randel K. Johnson                                                 Angelo I. Amador
Vice President                                                          Director
Labor, Immigration & Employee Benefits           Immigration Policy
Also on behalf of:
American Hotel and Lodging Association
American Society of Association Executives
American Immigration Lawyers Association
American Trucking Associations
Americans for Better Borders Coalition
Bellingham/Whatcom Chamber of Commerce
Binational Tourism Alliance
Buffalo-Niagara Partnership
Business for Economic Security, Tourism & Trade Coalition
Canadian/American Border Trade Alliance
Canadian American Business Council
Detroit Regional Chamber
Free Trade Alliance San Antonio
International Association for Exhibition Management
McAllen Chamber of Commerce
National Business Travel Association
National Foreign Trade Council
National Tour Association
Passenger Vessel Association
Plattsburgh-North Country Chamber of Commerce
Quebec-New York Corridor Coalition
Victoria San Juan Cruises
Washington International Education Council