U.S. and Canadian State and Provincial Leaders Urge Federal Officials to Reconsider Passport Reforms
New York Assemblyman Robin Schimminger, co-chair of the Council of State Governments’ Eastern Regional Conference (CSG/ERC) Eastern Canadian Provinces Committee, joined legislative and provincial leaders from across the Northeast states and the Eastern Canadian Provinces in opposing a requirement that all United States, Canadian and Mexican citizens entering or reentering the United States have a passport. The U.S. Departments of Homeland Security and State published the proposed passport requirement, known as the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), in the federal register on September 1st, opening a 60-day comment period.
In a letter addressed to U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, and senior members of Congress, the signatories emphasized border states’ and provinces’ concerns with WHTI, particularly its potential effect on tourism and commerce, and requested that the administration examine less onerous and more affordable options.
“Our economic security is dependent upon the smooth and efficient flow of goods and people across the border,” said Assemblyman Schimminger. “Requiring passports under the provisions of WHTI could harm travel, tourism and businesses on both sides of the border.”
Assemblyman Schimminger added, “Many legislators in the border states and provinces feel there are alternatives to the passport that would provide equivalent security, but be less burdensome for travelers.”
A recent report, prepared by Conference Board of Canada for the Canadian Tourism Commission, estimates that this passport requirement would result in 3.5 million fewer trips into the United States from Canada by 2008, resulting in a loss of $785 million in potential tourism revenue, and 7.7 million fewer trips by U.S. citizens into Canada, resulting in a $1.7 billion loss in revenues.
“While we recognize and acknowledge the security concerns which the WHTI is attempting to address, the impact on border communities, particularly the significant costs and time involved in obtaining a passport, may be a deterrent to travel and negatively impact the total number of border crossings,” said Assemblyman Schimminger.
Assemblyman Schimminger is one of eight officials that signed onto the letter. They include the two CSG/ERC co-chairs and officers of the CSG/ERC Eastern Canadian Provinces Committee. The letter is being sent with a copy of a resolution on WHTI passed by the CSG/ERC Executive Committee at its October 22, 2005, meeting in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
The resolution points out that daily 300,000 business people, tourists and regular commuters travel between Canada and the US; and on average $1.1 billion in goods cross the Canada-U.S. border every day.
Fifty-six percent of same-day travelers from the United States, and 40 percent of same-day travelers from Canada, and 50 percent of overnight travelers from the U.S. and 30 percent of overnight travelers from Canada do not possess a passport.
WHTI will apply to all individuals traveling to the United States by air and by sea, beginning December 31, 2006, and will apply to all individuals entering or re-entering the country via its land border crossings as of December 31, 2007. CSG/ERC seeks to discuss the resolution further with federal officials and participate in the process of examining alternative documentation requirements.
To read text of the letter and resolution, please visit www.csgeast.org.
The nonpartisan Council of State Governments is the nation’s only regionally based state services organization working with all three branches of government. The Eastern Regional Conference was established in 1937 and includes: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, Vermont, the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as the Eastern Canadian provinces of Nova Scotia, Quebec, and New Brunswick.
The mission of CSG/ERC is to provide a forum for new ideas; promote successful state policy innovations; advocate multi-jurisdictional problem solving; offer leadership training and technical assistance; serve as a catalyst for public/private dialog; and forecast policy trends affecting the region.