Whether you agree with the changes or not, there is no argument about their existence. This nation has changed tremendously since September 11, 2001.
One of the most recent examples of this change hits Whatcom County especially hard, and manifested itself in the terrorism bill passed in December 2004. That example is the requirement by January 2008 of verifiable travel documents (read passports) in order to enter the U.S. from Canada. This new requirement will be on everyone, both Canadians and Americans alike.
Living on the border as I do, I am just as concerned about security as the next person. However, this change in rules appears, on the surface, to go too far.
Here are my reasons why.
As I recently asked the Deputy Director of the Office of International Affairs at the Department of Homeland Security, how will requiring soccer moms (and everyone else) to have passports make us any safer? Neither she, nor anyone else, has been able to explain this. On September 11, the attacks were carried out by 19 people who all had passports to enter this country, and that clearly didn’t protect us.
One point that has been brought up recently is that requiring passports will shorten border wait times. The thought being that, if everyone has a similar type of verifiable identity, then it will take less time for each person to be processed.
This, however, makes little sense to me, a person who always crosses with a passport. It takes just as long for me to cross as those with birth certificates and driver’s licenses, since they ask us the same questions.
Only 15 to 20 percent of people in the U.S. have a passport, and there is a similar number in Canada. For the other 80 percent of Whatcom County residents who don’t have passports, if half of them get a passport in the first year of this requirement, there will be 74,000 passport requests from Whatcom County alone.
The current passport fee is $55, plus a $12 security surcharge, plus a $30 execution fee, for a total of $97. That means in year one alone, Whatcom County could have $7.2 million sucked out of our economy just to pay for passports.
Our number one trading competitor, the European Union, used to be a mecca of borders and checkpoints.
That all changed with the formation of the European Union, and today, once you enter the EU, you can travel throughout Europe with no further passport control. Even taking the train from London to Paris is treated just like a commuter train when you arrive at Gare du Nord in Paris.
You step off the train, and walk out the station door, no stopping. While this is going on in Europe, we are finding new ways to create barriers to trade and travel, and frankly, new ways to cause the Canadians to question our long-time partnership and friendship.
Bellingham/Whatcom County is part of a great economic region. That region crosses the 48th parallel, and includes over two million people. Half of all truck traffic originating from this area is going north, and millions of people cross the border every year for business, vacations, family visits, shopping, and many other reasons.
I firmly believe that we cannot undertake initiatives that would undermine the economy of this region on a whim.
Unfortunately, that appears to be what is happening here. Rather than finding real, long-term solutions to the security of the U.S., like partnering with the Canadians on a North American Perimeter Defense, we are simply going to force soccer moms in Blaine to carry passports when they travel over the border.
Luckily, many members of Congress agree with me on this. Most recently, Senator Norm Coleman (R-Minnesota) announced he opposed the requirement, and that if the administration couldn’t change it, he would author legislation. This follows one of the first senators to speak out against the requirement, Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-New York).
In addition, Congressman Tom Reynolds, a Republican from New York’s 26th District (Buffalo Area), and the current chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee, has been outspoken in his opposition.
The fact that so many leading Republicans are now opposed to the requirement is important, since their opposition will go a long way with the administration.
In the end, I believe cooler heads will prevail, and this requirement will be set aside.
But in the wake of 9/11, it is apparent that we must continue to be vigilant not just on our physical security, but on our economic and social security as well.
This is an example of a well-meaning proposal that does not meet its objective, and causes many other ancillary harms, both to us and to our best friends north of the 48th.
Ken Oplinger is President and CEO of the Bellingham Whatcom Chamber of Commerce and Industry.