Border posts add crossing scannersThe scanners and the new computer systems are in place at Vermont’s largest border crossing with Quebec and people in both the U.S. and Canada are starting to get identification cards that makes it easier for them to cross the border.
By: Wilson Ring, Associated Press
HIGHGATE SPRINGS, Vt. — The scanners and the new computer systems are in place at Vermont’s largest border crossing with Quebec and people in both the U.S. and Canada are starting to get identification cards that makes it easier for them to cross the border.
There are still a few loose ends, but officials with U.S. Customs and Border Protection said they will be ready June 1, the day the U.S. fully implements the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative.
And people in both countries know the pre-9/11 days are gone when they could simply tell a border agent who they were and go from one country to another. Most people crossing the border now already have all the required documents, officials said.
The travel initiative requires everyone entering the country to have specialized documents, such as passports or special driver’s licenses, that prove who they are and where they’re from.
Unlike the run-up to the Feb. 1, 2008 date when the U.S. stopped letting people enter based solely on their word, there is little concern the new rules will stifle trade and tourism between Vermont and Quebec and the U.S. and Canada.
“When I look back at where we were a couple of years ago when they were going to roll this out, there’s no way they were ready for it,” said Bill Stenger, the president of the Jay Peak ski resort, just south of the border, which relies heavily on Canadian skiers and summer tourists.
Homeland Security had intended to require the complete documentation June 1, 2008, but delayed the implementation after howls of complaints from officials in border states.
Vermont CBP representatives said the extra time was a good thing.
“I think it’s been very helpful for everybody involved,” said James McMillan, the CBP port director for Highgate Springs, at the top of Interstate 89.
In the last year, CBP installed scanners at most of Vermont’s border crossings that can read chips in enhanced driver’s licenses — issued by more and more states and provinces — and special passport cards, which are much less expensive than traditional passports. The scanners shave seconds off the time every person spends at the border, McMillan said.
“At the same time, it’s also given the public a chance to get accustomed to having to carry certain documents,” McMillan said.
U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., helped pass the legislation that delayed full implementation.
“The extra time has helped avert a major mess at the border,” Leahy said. “That would have been an economic shock wave that would have hurt Vermont and other border states. Federal agencies today are better prepared, and more Canadian visitors are aware that the change is coming.”
The key to the quicker border crossing is the radio frequency identification tag in the enhanced driver’s licenses that Vermont started issuing to the general public in February. The cards are linked to a database that will prove the identity of the holder.
Extra documentation and an interview is required to get the special Vermont license, but they are considered secure. A tag in the card will transmit information to a sensor at a border crossing that will enable a computer to pull the details of the traveler, such as name, age, and hometown.
The system can save seconds for each person visiting the border. It might not sound like much, but over the course of several hours, the time savings can be significant, said John Makolin, the CBP area port director for Vermont and New Hampshire.
“It does add up and it may seem incidental, but as time goes on and the document gets out there, it’s quicker, quicker, quicker,” Makolin said.
Stenger praised the local CBP officers for working hard to make sure the crossings were as easy as possible.
He said that June was a good time to roll out a new border policy. But it will be quickly tested. The Quebec holiday of St. Jean Baptiste Day is in late June and Canada Day is in early July, both of which traditionally bring Canadian travelers into the United States.
“Quite selfishly, I want to make sure our Canadian neighbors have an affordable way to enter the United States,” Stenger said. “The border economy of Vermont relies heavily on smooth and easy processing of guests coming to Vermont.”