- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 6, 2005

Passport protest

Canadian Ambassador Frank McKenna is raising an alarm with Canadian and American politicians and business leaders over a new U.S. border law that he fears could cost both countries billions in lost business and damage their tourism industries.

He most recently warned the Canadian Chamber of Commerce that most U.S. and Canadian travelers are unaware that they would have to present passports to cross the U.S. border, if the law takes effect as scheduled in 2008. The law will apply to air and sea travel a year earlier.

“That’s a big sleeper issue,” he told the business leaders last month, urging them to contact their U.S. counterparts to organize opposition to the measure and demand it be amended.

Mr. McKenna asked them to contact members of Congress and local officials from border states, “because if they talk, Washington is more likely to listen.”

The Department of Homeland Security is taking public comments on the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which would require a passport or certain other secure document that establishes the traveler’s identity or nationality for visits to the United States from all countries in the Western Hemisphere and for Americans returning from those destinations.

The State Department said U.S. officials are considering whether to allow documents from existing frequent-traveler programs, such as the Border Crossing Card, also known as the “laser visa,” as a substitute for a passport.

Mr. McKenna said Canada’s Conference Board, an independent research institute, estimates that the country would lose 7.7 million U.S. tourists and $2 billion if the law remains unchanged.

He noted that 15 million Americans and Canadians cross the border every year for overnight trips. The two countries share the biggest trading partnership in the world, with $500 billion in cross-border business annually.

The Toronto Globe and Mail reported yesterday that bipartisan opposition is growing against the measure from legislators in New York, including Gov. George E. Pataki and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

After meeting with Premier Jean Charest of Quebec, Mr. Pataki, a Republican, said a New York driver’s license should be adequate.

Mrs. Clinton, a Democrat, told an upstate New York business group that the U.S.-Canadian border is almost too vast to secure completely.

“You know as well as I do that you could give a passport to every man, woman, child, dog, cat, deer, fish and you would still be able to get across the border without people detecting you,” she said.

Illegal Irish

There may be fewer illegal Irish aliens in the United States than there are lobbyists in Washington, but Ireland’s parliament is still concerned about the plight of its wayfaring sons and daughters from the Emerald Isle.

The lawmakers in Dublin yesterday sent a news flash to reporters in Washington to inform them that they passed a resolution endorsing a congressional immigration bill sponsored by Sens. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, and John McCain, Arizona Republican.

Irish Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern referred to the illegal aliens as “undocumented Irish … [who] stay below the radar, fearful of detection.”

“For the undocumented, the stress of separation, the strain and anxiety of living in the shadows … remains very traumatic,” he said.

The Kennedy-McCain bill would allow illegal aliens to apply for temporary residency status and to travel to and from the United States, Mr. Ahern said.

Estimates of illegal aliens in the United States range from 11 million to more than 20 million, with more than 80 percent from Mexico or other Latin American nations.

However, only about 25,000 are Irish, vastly exceeded by the number of “registered” lobbyists in Washington alone — about 35,000.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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