ID rules will pinch towns on border, city officials argue

OLYMPIA – Officials from Washington border communities said Thursday that new travel identification requirements will place an unprecedented economic burden on Northwest cities, threatening international commerce and tourism.

Under a federal law to be phased in over the next two years, travelers entering the United States must provide a passport or a new government-issued ID card.

“For 200 years we’ve been able to move easily across the border,” said Ken Oplinger, a trade and tourism specialist for the Bellingham Chamber of Commerce, just 25 miles from the Canadian border. “Anything that would deter people from making those border crossings is going to create huge economic problems for our communities.”

Oplinger and others testified Thursday night at a public hearing that explored the impact of new ID requirements on local communities. Some of the testimony came via a video hookup at Western Washington University in Bellingham.

Rep. Kelli Linville, D-Bellingham, said she coordinated the discussion so state legislators could understand what border towns face under the new laws.

“There’s some tension between security and economics,” Linville said. “To keep ourselves secure is the primary goal, and to do it in a way that doesn’t impede trade is the next.”

About $1.2 billion worth of trade passes across the U.S.-Canadian border each day – 15 percent of it coming through crossings in Whatcom County, where Bellingham is located.

Nearly 10 million people traverse the border at Washington land ports each year.

Congress passed an anti-terrorism measure in 2004 that included the new travel ID requirements. By Dec. 31, 2006, all travelers entering the United States by sea or plane will need a $97 passport. By Dec. 31, 2007, those entering by land will need either a passport or a $50 wallet-sized PASS (People Access Security Service) ID card.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced plans for the new PASS cards three weeks ago. Only Americans would be able to get one of the PASS cards and doing so would require the same paperwork, photos and time as getting a passport.

Trip Atkins, a State Department representative, told the hearing Thursday night that those cards will streamline travel for border families who won’t have to constantly carry passports. The system will also prevent terrorists from entering the country with more fraud-prone identification like birth certificates or driver’s licenses, he said.

“We’re consistently faced with balancing security and facilitating trade,” said Amanda Bibler of the Department of Homeland Security. “By standardizing documentation, we are securing and streamlining the entry process into the United States.”

Only 23 percent of Americans have passports. All the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists carried them.

“With all respect to making sure we have the best identification, the bad guys are doing a much better job with fraud,” Port Angeles Mayor Karen Rogers said earlier Thursday in a telephone interview. She returned from Washington, D.C., on Thursday after lobbying lawmakers alongside 40 other border community representatives.

Darrell Bryan, executive vice president and general manager of Clipper Vacations, a private ferry service that runs the Victoria Clipper, said earlier in the day that his day-travel business surveyed about 100,000 American passengers last year and found that the ID laws would deter 17 percent of travelers. A Canadian Tourism Commission model put that figure at 6.8 percent.

Cross-border traffic is already down about 30 percent since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

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