It's true that American citizens live in a post- 9/1 1 world where they no longer can take security for granted. We understand that in an effort to make our country more secure, Americans must accept certain costly inconveniences. But that doesn't mean Western New Yorkers should support the decision by the State Department requiring passports of everyone crossing the Canadian-American border.
Until now, birth certificates and driver's licenses have often been enough proof of identity for the bulk of area residents who make routine trips across the border for business or pleasure. Though customs officials have tightened up their border crossing monitoring since the Sept. 11 attacks, stricter enforcement has not kept Americans and Canadians living in the region from enjoying each other's attractions.
But under the State Department mandate, any American returning to the United States from Canada by land, as well as any Canadian coming into the country, would be required to own a passport by 2008. Newborn infants and children would not be exempt. This rule would severely hurt area residents in both Western New York and Southern Ontario who are accustomed to making occasional trips across the border to shop, watch baseball games, play slots at the casinos, catch a theater show or take school field trips.
It costs $97 for an adult American citizen to get a passport, $82 for children under 16. Multiply that out for a local family of four interested in playing mini-golf on Clifton Hill or shopping at the Eaton Centre and two words come to mind: Forget it. Same thing goes for a Canadian family in Fort Erie interested in watching a Bills game or a skiing trip down in Colden. The costs are just prohibitive, and the ripple effect it would have on the region's tourism and travel industry could be crushing.
Finally, as rightfully pointed out in our news story, this passport requirement would end an era of trust between Americans and Canadians that is at least 80 years old. This may be considered a trivial sacrifice in the larger scope of homeland security, but the type of friendship we have long shared with our Canadian neighbors is a rare thing and should not be so easily dismissed.
For all these reasons, we encourage our Western New York delegation to fight this State Department mandate.
We understand that U.S. Customs officials would prefer a single standard of photo identification that is easier to read and harder to fake than driver's licenses. As it stands, Customs officials have long been encouraging those who have passports to bring them when they travel between the two countries.
We also appreciate the fact that the United States needs to find better ways to protect its borders from terrorists, drug mules, gun runners and smugglers. The challenges of homeland security are great.
But before we resort to drastic and expensive measures that promise to harm our regional economy, the federal government should be exploring other sensible ways to improve our nation's border security. Beefing up border patrols, hiring more Customs officials to conduct spot checks and taking advantage of new identification technology all come to mind. It is possible to defend our country and still preserve easy and convenient cross-border access.