In a press briefing last year, Assistant Secretary of State Maura Harty discussed the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), a joint effort of the U.S., Canadian, Mexican and Bermudan governments to strengthen border security and facilitate entry into the U.S. by legitimate travelers. In addition, the initiative will also attempt to reduce the market in stolen documents and minimize passport identity theft. The WHTI, which was mandated by Congress last year, will require all citizens of the above-stated nations to have a passport or other accepted secure travel document available when entering the U.S., as of January 1, 2008.
As part of the initiative, there will be registered traveler type programs that will speed the process of entry for those that have been previously screened and those that live in border communities. As of 2008, all U.S. citizens entering (and returning from) Canada, Bermuda and Mexico will be required to have passports or other acceptable documents to leave and return to the U.S. In addition, certain foreign nationals currently not required to have such documentation (e.g.: Canadian and Bermudan citizens) will be also required to present passports or other acceptable documentation to enter the U.S.
According to Harty, the initiative will be implemented in three phases:
“Phase One will be implemented by December 31, 2005 – that’s this December – and will affect United States citizens, Canadian citizens and citizens of Bermuda traveling to the United States by air or sea from countries in the Caribbean, Central and South America. That’s phase one.
Phase Two will be implemented one year later, by December 31, 2006, and will expand the requirement to all travel — to all travel to the United States from anywhere within the Western Hemisphere by air or sea, including travel from Canada and Mexico.
Phase Three will be implemented before the statutory deadline of January 1, 2008, and will institute the new travel document requirements at all air and sea and land border ports of entry.”
While the initiative may provide more strict borders, it sends a mixed message to the U.S. citizenship. Requiring such documentation to citizens of this country when leaving and returning to the U.S. may add a new layer isolationism to this nation’s immigration system and will assuredly slow down the process of travel for all.