Enhanced DLs Deemed Compliant for Use at Borders

By Janice Kephart on May 29, 2009

Today the Federal Register announced that the agency responsible for securing our borders, Customs and Border Protection, is designating enhanced driver's licenses and identification documents issued by the states of Vermont and Michigan and the Canadian provinces of Quebec, Manitoba, British Columbia, and Ontario as acceptable documents for purposes of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) that goes into effect at land and sea borders on June 1, 2009. Washington State (April 3, 2008) and New York (December 2, 2008) were previously designated as WHTI compliant. These documents may be used to denote identity and citizenship of, as appropriate, U.S. or Canadian citizens entering the United States from within the Western Hemisphere at land and sea ports of entry.

WHTI is a key recommendation of the 9/11 Commission. It is the first “from scratch” border recommendation of the 9/11 Commission that has come to full fruition, despite early, forceful attempts to repeal it by the Canadians, travel and commercial industry groups, and many border states initially unhappy with the requirement. I recall participating in some pretty heated testimony on Capitol Hill on the issue, and being pressed by special interests to accept something less than WHTI on numerous occasions.

The success of WHTI is due to the hard work of Secretaries Chertoff and Rice, despite immense (and unfair) opposition by many of these interests, and to Secretary Napolitano and Clinton for carrying the initiative over the finish line.

WHTI’s implementation at air ports of entry in January 2007 went so well – over 99 percent compliance – that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is confident the same result will occur on our land borders. One reason is an extensive public relations campaign: most everyone coming across the borders, I was told unofficially, has either a passport, a passport card (a driver’s license-like passport good for crossing land borders), an enhanced driver’s license (EDL), or trusted traveler card as they are passing over. Unofficially, I asked about traffic backing up at ports of entry. I was told yesterday that the lines are no worse, and in some cases better, because (1) the trusted traveler programs have improved; (2) inspectors have only four varieties of documents to consider for review, as opposed to thousands acceptable, including an oral declaration, previously; and (3) technology on the new documents is enabling inspectors to process identity information as cars approach booths, speeding up inspection. The added security benefit is that all persons are being inspected, and this means, as well, that more passports and more IDs are vetted through identity databases and INTERPOL’s very successful lost and stolen passport database.

What this means: the 9/11 Commission was right. Trade and tourism facilitation and national security can go hand in hand at our borders. No longer, perhaps, need we consider a trade-off between the two in policy discussions. Simply, a requirement.

This is all good news. But one question: When, oh, when are EDLs going to be designated as REAL ID compliant and available for REAL ID grant monies? They have long been described at “REAL ID plus” IDs, and even though small difference to make them distinct, in the overall scheme of things, secure ID issuance processes being embraced by states is the purpose of REAL ID. It is working, and so is EDL. We don’t need a new law to cross-designate compliance; the DHS can issue a rule administratively. It may go a long way in assuaging states on the cusp of REAL ID implementation to move even further forward.

If you enjoyed this blog, check out MD Faces Music on Drivers Licenses and The Appearance of Security.