DHS in final plans for biometric pass to replace passports at land border-crossings

Published 14 February 2006

Good news for the travel, hotel, and near-border retail industries. Last year DHS said that U.S. citizens re-entering the country at land borders would have to present passports. The proposal caused an uproar in upstate New York, Michigan, and Washington, and California, four states where cross-border travel is important to the local economy. DHS has now relented, and is putting the final touches, together with the Department of State, on a plan calling for frequent border crossers to able to apply for a lower-cost alternative card which fits into their wallets. DHS secretary Michael Chertoff said late last week that a biometric “passport card” — the government calls it People Access Security Service, or PASS system card — will be made available by late this year. Cardholders will be able to use them to enter the country at southern and northern land borders, forgoing their need to obtain a passport by the end of 2007 as was required initially. This is good news for border-crossers: A passport costs $97, while the new card would cost about $50. An estimated four out of five U.S. citizens do not have passports, according to data analysis of State Department and Census Bureau statistics.

The San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), reported last year that average border wait times of forty-five minutes contribute to millions of lost trips as travelers choose to avoid the congestion, leading to billions of dollars’ worth of revenue losses on both sides of the border. According to the SANDAG report, each day more than 136,000 cars, 6,200 trucks, and nearly 340,000 people travel between the United States and Mexico via the San Ysidro, Otay Mesa, and Tecate border crossings.

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