- The Washington Times - Monday, May 29, 2006

The huge border-security bill the U.S. Senate passed last week has a provision that would let states put citizenship details on new secure driver’s licenses.

The pilot program, which would allow those getting new licenses the option of having the card confirm their citizenship as well as their identity, would make licenses an effective substitute for a U.S. passport at the nation’s borders and throughout the Caribbean. And critics say it would be an important step toward a national identity-card system.

The program seeks to use the changes to driver’s licenses required by the 2005 Real ID Act — which mandated that the federal government set minimum standards for licenses. State issuing authorities will have to meet those standards by 2008, if the licenses they dispense are to remain acceptable for boarding planes and getting into federal buildings.

The license provision is one of a series of changes inserted in the immigration-reform bill at the last minute by lawmakers concerned about deadlines for the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative — a congressionally mandated plan to tighten entry requirements at the U.S. northern border.

The initiative was written in response to the September 11 commission, which found that the current northern border rules — which effectively let U.S. and Canadian citizens cross with little more than a driver’s license by way of identification — was a major security vulnerability.

In the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, Congress mandated the introduction, for the first time, of a requirement that U.S. citizens crossing the border into their own country present a passport or some other acceptable secure identification that establishes citizenship. The law set an implementation deadline of Jan. 1, 2008.

But the vision of a seamless, secure frontier has bumped up against the reality of communities and families that sprawl across the border — especially with Canada — and of businesses that rely on frictionless travel between the United States and its northern neighbor.

Lawmakers and businesses from the northern border regions have become increasingly concerned as the deadline approaches.

The bundle of amendments added by Sen. Norm Coleman, Minnesota Republican, also postpones the implementation of the new tighter rules by at least 18 months. The language was made part of a so-called manager’s amendment — usually a collection of noncontroversial technical or drafting changes made to a bill at the last minute — and passed Thursday as part of the broad immigration bill.

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