New changes in effect to cross Canadian, Mexican borders
Less than an hour's drive from Sedro-Woolley is the Canadian border. Throughout the history of Washington's friendly relationship with our northern neighbor, all that was required to enter Canada was a driver's license and/or a birth certificate as identification. That changed last week.
Beginning June 1, travelers are required to have a passport, Nexus card, or an enhanced driver's license to cross the Canadian and Mexican borders. The new requirements were adopted by the federal Department of Homeland Security in an effort to make our borders more secure.
Federal officials say they have good reason to implement the changes. Terrorists have attempted to use the Canadian border to enter into the United States. The most notable case of this happened at the Port Angeles ferry terminal when al-Qaida operative Ahmed Ressam was arrested Dec. 14, 1999 by border patrol agents who discovered he had bomb-making materials in his rental car. Ressam had intended to bomb the Los Angeles International Airport.
Since the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., border security has been one of the federal government's top priorities. The new passport requirements were to go into effect a few years ago, but our state voiced concerns about how these new rules would affect Washington's trade and tourism with Canada, especially with the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic games on the horizon. Gov. Christine Gregoire and British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell worked out an alternative arrangement with Homeland Security.
Under that agreement, new high-tech driver's licenses would be issued to Washingtonians for less than half the cost of a $100 passport. Known as an “enhanced driver's license,” it contains all the same information as a regular driver's license. However, the difference is that the enhanced license contains a computer chip that is scanned by border agents which provides secure information to prove your identity.
Only 13 Department of Licensing offices issue the enhanced license, including Mount Vernon. The new license is voluntary and costs $40, which is $15 more than a standard license. The process is also more extensive than a standard license. You'll need to bring documentation to prove your U.S. citizenship, identity, and Washington state residence. An interview with a licensing services representative is also required. The license is good for five years, however, it won't work for overseas travel. For that, you'll still need a passport. For more information on enhanced driver's licenses, call the Mount Vernon DOL office at (360) 416-7563 or go online at www.dol.wa.gov/driverslicense/edl.html.
Another alternative is the Nexus card. This card costs $50, but the application process is more extensive, involving an interview with border officials and fingerprinting. For more information on this card, go to www.cbp.gov and click on the “Trusted Traveler Programs” link.
For the record, I am not a fan of the new requirements. However, the events in Port Angeles and during 9/11 have proven we live in a different and, sometimes dangerous world. Hopefully the information provided here will help to facilitate your ability to obtain the documents necessary for continued travel across our borders.
EDITOR'S NOTE: State Rep. Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, represents the 39th Legislative District, and also serves as chairman of the Washington House Republican Caucus. He can be contacted at (360) 786-7967 or from his Web site at: houserepublicans.wa.gov/Kristiansen.