ACLU: DHS Border Crossing Plans Show Mix of Arrogance and Incompetence

January 22, 2008 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – Plans by the Department of Homeland Security to impose new identity-document requirements at the Canadian border in defiance of Congress are the latest example of the department’s characteristic combination of arrogance and incompetence, the American Civil Liberties Union said today.

“It’s bad enough that DHS is so arrogant and high-handed,” said Barry Steinhardt, director of the ACLU’s Technology and Liberty Program. “But worse, they have no cause to be arrogant because they are so incompetent.”

The policy, which will require all travelers entering the United States from Canada to present either a passport or both a driver’s license and a birth certificate beginning January 31, was affirmed by DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff in remarks to the Associated Press over the weekend.

“This is truly a case where defiance of Congress reflects a greater defiance – defiance of the real interests of the American people,” said ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel Tim Sparapani. “Congress needs to restore some sanity to our border policy, assert its will, and quickly countermand this decision.”

The ACLU and others cited several problems with the policy, including:

· Border disaster. Misguided passport requirements for land border crossings, passed in a different environment in 2004, have been repeatedly delayed because of their impracticality. Chertoff’s rigid new policy will create havoc at the border.

· Economic drain. Uninhibited movement is a vital part of a healthy economy, and the new regulations are being imposed just as the economy appears to be heading into a recession.

· Birth certificates. Not only are they issued by thousands of separate jurisdictions and therefore easy to forge, but many Americans cannot obtain their birth certificates because they have been destroyed, compromised by fraud, or because they were not born in a hospital and have never had one. This is especially true of the elderly, poor, and minorities. Many others cannot obtain their birth certificates without significant expense and red tape – certainly not in the two weeks they now have.

· Fairness. The DHS rules will leave little recourse for aggrieved individuals who need to fix document problems. They also impermissibly interfere with the First Amendment-protected Right to Travel.

“It is a mystery why the Bush administration is so doggedly fixated upon identity systems as pillar of its anti-terrorism policy,” said Steinhardt. “They are disruptive, alien to American values, and a terribly inefficient way of stopping terrorism.”

“If Americans like this policy, they’re going to love Real ID, which has many of the same problems – bureaucratic nightmares, economic drains, and a shaky reliance on birth certificates,” added Sparapani. “Let’s hope Congress ends both.”

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