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Pennsylvanians Affected by New Border Regulations

Posted by Robert Speel on 05/31 at 10:02 PM

Pennsylvania residents have long been used to needing only regular driver’s licenses and a birth certificate to travel to Canada and back by car. But as of this week, that will no longer be possible.

Many Pennsylvanians are probably not aware that their state shares an international boundary with Canada, probably because the boundary lies in the middle of Lake Erie.  But if you travel by boat or are an excellent swimmer, less than 30 miles separate the land between Erie County, Pennsylvania, and Long Point, Ontario.

For those who prefer to travel by car, northwest Pennsylvania is about 90 minutes drive from the closest border crossing in Buffalo, NY.  Starting on June 1, 2009, Pennsylvanians, and all Americans and Canadians, will need a passport to cross via car, bicycle, or foot from Canada into the United States. Those without a passport will need either a Nexus card, given to frequent travelers after an application, interview, and background check, or an enhanced state driver’s license that costs more than a regular license and contains encoded information. Passports have been needed by Americans for air travel from Canada since 2007.

The enhanced driver’s licenses are now being offered to New Yorkers, but not to Pennsylvanians.  Pennsylvania residents have long been used to needing only regular driver’s licenses and a birth certificate to travel to Canada and back by car. But as of this week, that will no longer be possible.

This policy, part of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative pursued by the United States, often over Canadian objections, is part of the increased border security programs since 9/11.  Many Americans are misinformed that some of the 9/11 hijackers came from Canada (none did). Earlier this year, US Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano caused controversy in the Canadian media when she implied that some of the 9/11 hijackers arrived in the United States through Canada. Her comments were followed up by Arizona Senator John McCain, who also falsely asserted in an interview that 9/11 hijackers had entered the US from Canada.

As the European Union tears borders down to expand commerce, international travel, and rights for people to move and work freely, the United States seems intent on building walls and making routine day trips by Americans to Canada more burdensome and more expensive.  Many Pennsylvanians probably just won’t bother.

The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative was designed by the Bush administration and is currently being implemented by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Last week, former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton participated in a forum together in downtown Toronto.

When asked about the passport requirement by Frank McKenna, a former Canadian ambassador to the US, Bush didn’t even know about it. According to the Toronto Star, Bush said “I’ll be frank with you Frank, I don’t know about the passport issue.  I thought we were making good progress on using a driver’s license to cross the border.”

Clinton said he had only heard of the new passport requirement the day before and thought it could be damaging to Canadian-American economic relations and the ability of Americans to travel to Canada. He promised the audience in attendance that he would inquire with homeland security as to the reasons for the passport requirement when he returned to the US.

The Toronto Star article can be found here: http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/642976

{name} Author: Robert Speel
Bio: Associate Professor of Political Science
Penn State Erie, The Behrend College

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