Starting January 31, Americans who wish to re-enter the country from Mexico or Canada will no longer be able to simply produce a driver’s license and verbally announce their citizenship to cross the border. Stronger proof of citizenship will be required — in most cases, that means producing a passport or birth certificate.
However, in an interview with National Review Online’s Mark Hemingway, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff emphasized that while the new regulations may result in some temporary inconvenience, they are strictly necessary. The new rules will address the threat of terrorism, as well as the American people’s desire to see more border security to stem the tide of illegal immigration.
NRO: You said these new rules are put in place to prevent another 9/11 style attack. That’s obviously a pretty serious threat. What specific threats are we talking about?
Secretary Chertoff: More general than that. Obviously if you go back to 9/11 commission, the 9/11 commission identified one of the vulnerabilities that led to the attacks as insecure documentation, and phony documentation. Therefore, to the extent we’re in the process of tightening up the kinds of documents we’ll accept crossing the border, that is directly reducing the threat in terms of people sneaking across to carry out terrorist acts. Of course, you will remember there were some — the millennium bomber tried to cross at a land port of entry in Washington State coming in from Canada so it’s not merely a theoretical possibility.
But there is a more general issue. We are in the process of trying to secure the border in general, including securing the border against illegal immigrants. You could build a hundred fences between the ports of entry and if you open the port of entry to people who are coming in either making an oral declaration of citizenship — basically saying “I’m an American citizen, let me come in.” — or allowing them to use 8,000 different kinds of documents so you can’t tell what’s legitimate and what’s not legitimate, then for all intents and purposes you’re keeping the front door open while you’re building a fence between the doors. And that doesn’t make a lot of sense. So what we’re doing here is…furthering the process of tightening up on security on the ports of entry by eliminating so-called oral declarations, and also by significantly reducing the kinds of documents that will be accepted.
NRO: Any sort of idea about what these new regulations will cost?
Secretary Chertoff: It doesn’t cost a penny. The documents already exist. Now obviously, as part of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which Congress has delayed, we will ultimately be bringing new documents on-line which will also be acceptable. But right now under the new rules, if you have a driver’s license and a birth certificate, that’s going to be fine. What we’ll screen out is relying on things like your library card or your baptismal certificate, which will no longer be acceptable as proof of citizenship to come across the border.
NRO: Your baptismal certificate could get you across the border?
Secretary Chertoff: Yup! Up to now, that’s been the kind of document that has been presented at the border that’s been accepted.
NRO: I assume that means there’s a major problem with fraud?