Editorial: Border ID rule is not protecting way of life (Burlington Free Press)

The Department of Homeland Security made a questionable move with the announcement on Jan. 17 that Americans crossing back from Canada will face stricter ID requirement starting Jan. 31.

The question is, do the new border crossing protocols make us safer? When considering this issue, the important thing to remember is that the justification is to secure our borders against foreign terrorists, not to catch murderers, human traffickers or drug smugglers.

At best, the new document rule is a bad-faith move on the part of Homeland Security after Congress postponed the full implementation of passport requirement for overland border crossings until June 2009. Giving only two weeks between the announcement and implementation adds to the burden, especially for Vermonters who live in communities that straddle the border.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., is crying foul, saying Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff's move is an end run around the postponement of the passport requirement. Chertoff says he has long had the authority to require identification at land crossings.

Leahy questions whether the move will make America safer, saying the new rules eliminate border patrol agents' discretion "to use their training and skills to identify risks that no pieces of paper could catch."

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., says Chertoff's decision "is going to cause more confusion than it will help secure our borders." Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., adds, "You would think this administration would have learned after last year's fiasco requiring passports for air travelers."

Although there are 24 forms of identifications on Homeland Security's list of approved documents, only a few are available to most of us right now, including passports and birth certificates. The latter will require another document that establishes identity.

Passports are expensive and can take weeks to obtain. U.S. citizens must wait until Feb. 1 to begin applying for the cheaper passport cards. Even obtaining a birth certificate can be a time-consuming task for those born out of state. These are some of the same reason Congress pushed back the passport requirement.

The purpose of securing our borders is to protect our way of life. In Vermont, and especially along the state's northern border, the free flow of people and goods across the border is very much a part of our way of life.

The sudden imposition of the de facto passport requirement threatens that flow. That hardly sounds like enhanced security.