U.S. lawmakers agree to extend passport deadline
Updated Tue. Sep. 26 2006 11:27 PM ET News Staff

The deadline for tough new border identification requirements at Canada-U.S. border crossings will be extended for 17 months, U.S. lawmakers agreed Tuesday.

The rule requiring passports or another high-technology document to enter the United States at land borders was meant to go into effect Jan. 1, 2008.

But negotiators from the House of Representatives and Senate have agreed to push back the date to June 1, 2009.

Canadians entering the U.S. by air or sea will still require passports starting Jan. 8, 2007.

The delay is included in a funding bill for the U.S. Homeland Security Department that permits new fencing along the U.S. border with Mexico, aimed at stemming the flood of illegal immigrants.

Though it still needs to clear Congress, observers have indicated that they are certain that it will pass.

The vote could come as soon as Thursday before legislators from the bi-partisan committee hit the hustings for the mid-term elections in November.

American officials had said they expected the Department of Homeland Security to soon publish the rules for the alternative secure ID card, which will likely be the size of a driver's licence and contain the same information as a passport.

"Canada and the United States are already experimenting with these cards with their business travelers, they're wallet sized cards that cost $50 and both sides are definitely going to go that route," reported CTV's Robert Fife on Tuesday night.

"The big problem they have is that they don't have the infrastructure at border crossings to handle millions of passports and the U.S. State Department can't handle millions of requests for passports so they have to find another alternative."

Canadian officials have been saying for months that the initial time frame was too tight to institute the security measure without slowing traffic to a crawl at border crossings.

"There's been an enormous lobbying effort on behalf of not only the Canadian government, but also the chambers of commerce, people involved in business of all sorts along the border who have realized the Americans are nowhere close to having a system in place that would meet the requirements for this new operation," CTV's Tom Clark told Newsnet's Mike Duffy Live.

In Niagara Falls, dinner theatre owner Ross Robinson put the situation this way: "My business was once 70 per cent American. Now it's 50 per cent. This is not a war on terrorism. It's a war on tourism."

Susan Hughes Anthony of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce said confusion over the situation has led to reduced tourism and convention bookings.

"It's crazy. It's a train wreck. It puts up a wall between the U.S. and Canada. It's just economically foolish," said James Blanchard, a former governor of Michigan.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper urged the U.S. to consider pushing back the deadline when he visited the White House in July.

At the time, U.S. President George Bush indicated that he wouldn't oppose the possibility if Congress decided to alter the deadline.

Also speaking on Mike Duffy Live, Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day painted the decision as a vindication of the Conservative government's approach to managing relations with the United States.

"This is a key example of how you get along with your neighbour," he said.

It has nothing to do quite frankly with Mr. Harper but everything to do with what is going on with the mid-term elections over there," NDP MP Joe Comartin, who represents the border city of Windsor, Ont., told CTV News.

A border fence with Canada?

At the same time the U.S. Congress is delaying implementation of the ID card, it's still studying the feasibility of a fence at some points along the Canada-U.S. border.

"That's the yin and the yang of this," Clark said.

"Security trumps every other issue down here," he said. "Not a politician in this town wants to say, 'I'm soft on security'."

Day said the U.S. has no intention of putting up a fence along the northern border.

"We've heard there could be some technological additions along the northern border," he said.

"We have 119 actual border stations across the country, coast to coast. You know, on 7,000 kilometres, that's a lot of room between border stations."

The government wants borders that are secure, "but also borders that allow prosperity to happen," Day said.

With a report from CTV's Robert Fife