By Andrew Mitchell
Just a few weeks after the U.S. Department of Homeland Security agreed to waive new passport requirements for youth 17 and under, the organization is said to be considering an exemption for residents of Washington state and British Columbia.
The agreement would hinge on the use of enhanced driver’s licenses on both sides of the border with increased background checks of applicants. The new license would cost half as much as a passport, and could be used by people driving over the border after the second phase of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative kicks in on Jan. 1, 2008.
Currently the passport restrictions are applied at airports and seaports, with all adults requiring passports to enter the U.S. — including U.S. citizens returning from abroad. In 2008 the program will be expanded to land border crossings as well, a restriction that governments fear could stifle trade and tourism.
The pilot project is being championed by Washington Governor Christine Gregoire, as well as other state governors who rely on cross-border tourism and trade.
The Department of Homeland Security has yet to approve the proposal, but has indicated in the past that it is open to alternatives to the passport requirement that meet federal security requirements. For example, Nexus card holders who make frequent cross-border trips, are already exempt because they have been pre-screened by Homeland Security.