The Department of Homeland Security will tighten identification requirements to cross the border, despite opposition from Democrats in Congress, by the end of this month.
“We’re going to eliminate the vulnerabilities that we can eliminate now even with Congress delaying our initiative,” said Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff in a phone interview with Townhall on Thursday.
As of January 31, DHS will end the practice of “oral declarations” and significantly narrow the list of acceptable forms of identification that can be used to enter the United States.
“We are not going to allow people any more to make what we call oral declarations at the border,” Chertoff said. “And what that means is someone just walks up to the border and says ‘I am an American’ and they are just waived through without looking at any identification. It may surprise you that that ever happened but apparently for some period of time, particularly when things get busy, agents do not require identification for everyone that is coming through. We’re ending that. There is no excuse for that.”
DHS found 31,060 instances of oral false claims between October 2004 and September 2007.
Chertoff is also reducing the number of documents that can be used for identification purposes. Until now, 8,000 different forms of identification could be used to to prove identity. . “Not just passports and driver’s licenses and birth certificates, but baptismal certificates, student ID cards, library cards, and that’s ridiculous because many of these are very easy to forge or fabricate,” Chertoff said.
These two actions are a part of what DHS would like to implement as part of a large package called the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) that was created in response to 9/11 Commission recommendations. WHTI originally passed as a part of a larger intelligence reform bill in 2004 and was scheduled to be enacted this year. Congress, however, inserted language into the 2008 omnibus spending bill to delay the program until June 2009.
Rep. Louise Slaughter (D.-N.Y.), chairwoman of the House rules committee, takes credit for delaying WHTI. Slaughter told the Buffalo-based Business Review in December, “We have put it off [WHTI] until 2009. We want a new administration and certainly want a new director of Homeland Security.” She also expressed doubt the measures would enhance security because “You’d have to be a pretty stupid terrorist to wait in line just to cross one of the bridges.”
When asked about the likelihood of the next administration supporting WHTI, Chertoff said, “If a future Congress and a future administration decides they want to go back to the same kinds of old, flimsy documentation then they are going to take the responsibility for the consequences, as unhappy as those consequences may be.”
Chertoff said he was able to end the practice of oral declarations and reducing the list of acceptable documents by making “just a tweak in the instruction” DHS gives to Border Patrol and border inspectors.
Full WHTI standards would require persons traveling by air or sea between the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean Basin, Bermuda and Central and South American to carry a passport. To cross a land border, however, a security enhanced-driver’s license or State Department issued Pass card would be accepted. .
“The best thing in the world would be for the Congress to allow us to implement this before June 2009,” Chertoff said. “But, to be honest with you, at this point if they would just let us do what we are doing now, we at least make 80 percent progress in dealing with some of our problems at the border.”