Leahy presses Bush administration to delay new border ID rules

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(Host) The Department of Homeland Security is sending a clear message to anyone who wants to cross the Canadian border starting this Thursday – you must have a passport – or a valid driver’s license and your birth certificate – to prove that you’re an American citizen.

The Department says it’s rejecting efforts by Senator Patrick Leahy and other members of Congress to delay implementing the new rules.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) There are concerns that the new requirements will cause long delays at the border and a number of business groups in the state are worried that the delays will have an adverse impact on tourism and trade between Vermont and Quebec.

Senator Patrick Leahy has just written Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff requesting that the rule be delayed.

(Leahy) "If we’re facing the possibility of recession in Vermont this is almost guaranteed to throw us into a recession and it does absolutely nothing to improve our security. With the hundreds of billions of dollars we’re going to lose as a result of this, if we spent a tiny fraction of it improving our intelligence and Canada‘s intelligence that would make us secure."

(Kinzel) Leahy questions why the Bush Administration is pressing ahead with this plan because he says late last year Congress adopted his amendment to delay these new requirements under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative.

(Leahy)"It is very, very difficult when you have an administration that won’t even follow the laws that the president has signed. And I think instead of this kind of mindless macho you see on their part why not work for a sensible solution."

(Kinzel) Homeland Security spokeswoman Laura Keehner says her agency has previous authority to impose this new rule and she says Leahy’s comments aren’t accurate.

(Keehner) "That’s just misleading. The omnibus bill that was passed and signed by the president in December talks about the full implementation of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which is actually a completely different authority than what the secretary is currently using to make sure that we look at and review every single person who’s coming in."

(Kinzel) And Keehner insists that the new rules will go into effect on Thursday.

(Keehner) "We are moving forward with it. This is a long overdue measure and it is in America‘s best interest to go through the front door of the United States. And people are outraged to hear that you can basically just say, `I’m an American citizen. let me in.’ It is long overdue and we need to change that and we need to change that as soon as possible."

(Kinzel) Senator Leahy says he hopes Homeland Security will reconsider their position because "it’s not too late for common sense" on this issue.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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