A little navy blue, 24-page book sticks out of the pocket of the person next in line. A gold bald eagle on the front cover glistens under the lights. Inside are the stamps of previous adventures. He goes to grab it to present it at airport check-in. But, this time he is not heading home from a luxurious European vacation.On Jan. 23, anyone traveling by air between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean and Bermuda, including U.S. citizens, was suddenly required to present a valid passport.
This was step one of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), the next phase will occur Jan. 1, 2008 and cover all other forms of transportation – like driving to Canada.
According to the Department of State, the goal of WHTI is to “strengthen border security and facilitate entry in the United States . and allow the Department of Homeland Security to quickly, reliably and accurately identify a traveler.”
In 2004, the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act (IRTPA) ordered the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to develop and implement a plan that required all travelers entering the country to present a passport. Currently, U.S. citizens need only to present a birth certificate or driver’s license or may make a verbal declaration of citizenship to re-enter from a Western Hemisphere country.
“I don’t think it’s going to affect students any more than if they were traveling any place else,” said student Justine Campbell.
Under the new regulations, other forms of documentation other than a passport that will be accepted are the Nexus Air card and the Merchant Mariner Document. A PASS card is also in the development stages. This credit card sized, limited use passport will be available for land and sea travel only and will not be accepted for re-entry from South or Central America.
“The new regulations, while they may seem required, are a bit much and will seem to seclude Americans from the rest of the world as in some ways it will make travel much more tedious,” said Chris Low, a CSC junior.
A lack of a passport will lead to a secondary screening at the place of re-entry. During the screening, officers will evaluate any evidence of citizenship or identity and will verify all information against any available databases.
However, the requirement may be waived under certain circumstances including individual cases of unforeseen emergency or cases based on “humanitarian or nation interest reasons.”
Currently, approximately a quarter of the eligible population (over 70 million people) hold valid passports. In 2006, 12.1 million passports were issued. Following the increasing trend since 2002, the U.S. Department of State anticipates the demand to rise to 16 million in the 2007 fiscal year.
The DHS preformed an economic cost analysis for air travel based primarily on data from the Office of Travel and Tourism Industries (OTTI). The analysis concludes that any economic effects will mainly be short term. It infers that in the long run, passports will become a normal part of all international travel and routine in the travel-planning process.
“It might be a little bit more work, but I’ve only been to Canada once so it doesn’t really influence me more than people who go a lot,” Campbell said.
The conclusion was determined from a best, worst and most likely case scenario for the total cost of estimated passports demanded in the first and second year of the rule for travelers to WHTI countries. During the first year, the best case is estimated at approximately $519 million with the worst case being at $1,621 billion. According to DHS, the cost will more likely be about $600 million. In the second year, those numbers are expected to decrease to $45 million (best case), $424 million (worst case) and $86 million (most likely).
The cost analysis also briefly takes in to consideration the indirect costs to industries that support travelers. If travelers give up some trips to WHTI countries due to passport cost or the hassle of obtaining one, those indirectly affected include air carriers, airports, travel agents and tour operators.
“If I wish to travel I feel that I will travel nonetheless,” Low said. “Ultimately they (other citizens) will travel and agree to this as they have every other regulation as long as the government preys upon people’s sensitivity to the 9/11 incident.