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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion

Outside view: Border solutions

Vancouver Columbian The Spokesman-Review

The following editorial appeared Sunday in the Vancouver Columbian.

Any terrorist who is frustrated by the absence of any major attack in the United States since 9/11 can take warped consolation in this fact: The war against terror has created for Americans a border security system that U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., calls “an unmitigated disaster.” That’s cause for a few high-fives in the al-Qaida caves.

While the states blame the federal government and Congress blames the Department of Homeland Security for all the chaos, travelers and regular border-crossers at such places as Blaine, Wash., are left confused. Give the feds credit for trying hard, and give them credit for extending deadlines when new regulations became too costly or too complex to be implemented on time.

But more credit has been earned by Washington state legislators and Gov. Chris Gregoire, who created a pilot program for border-crossing identification based on renewal of driver’s licenses. Starting in January 2008, Washingtonians who renew driver’s licenses can voluntarily apply for a $40 “enhanced” license that could serve as an alternative document for the more expensive ($97) passport.

Home Security officials like the pilot program and have urged other states to pay attention. The enhanced license will contain citizenship data and could be used by border guards to check a driver’s criminal background. Other databases could be added to the system later. More information: www.dol.wa.gov.

Meanwhile, however, confusion persists in other aspects of border crossing. Congress in 2004 approved legislation requiring those entering the United States by land, air or sea from Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean to have passports. But because a flood of passport applications bogged down the system, implementation dates have been extended to January 2008 for travelers arriving by land and sea. Starting then, they must show a passport or a government-issued ID such as a driver’s license, along with proof of citizenship such as a birth certificate.

But with passport applications now taking as long as 12 weeks, twice as long as before, the border-crossing picture remains murky. Rep. Dicks, a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, is furious with the administration and Homeland Security officials. “What makes me mad is they insist on doing this but time and again they have been unable to deliver,” he said last week.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Cherthoff says delaying restrictions is “playing with fire.” Both the Senate and the House are working on legislation in hopes of bringing clarity to the issue. But we share Dicks’ frustration, and the track record indicates Congress and the administration have little chance of lifting the confusion. Once again, our state is ahead of Congress and the administration in proffering solutions to a critical problem.

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