(Washington, D.C.) – Today at a Senate hearing, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) urged the Bush Administration to delay the passport requirements of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) until 2008. She also called on the Bush Administration to work closely with the local business and civic leaders in Whatcom County to ensure the final plan improves security without hurting cross-border trade and tourism.
WHTI will require people crossing the border into the United States to show a passport or other approved document starting December 31, 2006 for passengers entering the U.S. by air or sea, and by December 31, 2007 for land border crossings.
Murray is concerned that the new rules could hurt Washington state commerce without actually improving security. Today, at a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, Murray urged James Williams, Director of the U.S. Visitor and Immigration Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) Program to delay the passport requirement for sea and air crossings until 2008 and to work with local officials in Whatcom County.
"Washington state has a robust tourism industry that has historically depended on fluid cross-border travel," Murray said. "There is evidence that the passport requirement is already impacting cross-border tourism, simply because rules and implementation dates have not been clear to the average citizen."
Murray urged Williams to, "consider delaying the air and sea travel deadline and applying a uniform date for implementing the new document requirements for all travel—land, sea, and air."
She also called on the Administration to "work more closely with our local communities to address their concerns – possibly even establishing an official advisory group made up of effected business and community leaders."
In addition, Murray urged DHS to "consider the adverse economic impact of new passport regulations and allow adequate time for travelers to be notified and acquire additional documentation if necessary."
At the hearing, Murray also raised her concerns about ferry travel. Washington state has the largest ferry system in the country. Confusion over the documents required for ferry travel between Canada and the U.S. could lead to some people to forgo ferries and could contribute to lines and delays at the land border crossings.
Also today, Murray joined all members of the Washington state Congressional delegation in sending a bipartisan letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff expressing concerns about the travel initiative.
Murray is a longtime advocate for Northern Border communities. She secured $1 million to help Whatcom County prosecute the growing number of cases that the federal government turns over to the county. Over the past two years, Murray helped secure $5.8 million for the Blaine interchange, and last year she secured $67 million to create a new border facility at the Peace Arch.
Murray has previously spoken out on the passport requirement. On October 31, 2005, Murray asked the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection to launch a pilot project at the Peace Arch to test the effectiveness of a smart ID system. On January 17th, DHS announced plans for a new access card for the border.