Chamber of commerce applauds agreement on enhanced driver licenses

PLATTSBURGH Enhanced driver licenses could be available to New Yorkers as early as the end of the summer. In a statement from Gov. David A. Paterson, it was announced a final agreement has been reached between New York State and the federal Department of Homeland Security regarding the issuance of enhanced driver licenses for border crossing purposes. The enhanced driver license will meet the requirements of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative for crossing the U.S.-Canadian border as of June 2009, providing another option New York State residents can obtain for land and water travel to Canada. The license will not look significantly different from the current document, but will have additional features to clearly indicate it is an approved enhanced driver license. Participation in the EDL project will be voluntary and open to all New York State residents who are U.S. citizens. Once available, New Yorkers will be able to obtain an EDL by visiting a Department of Motor Vehicles office to provide various proofs of identity and citizenship, which will be verified by DMV officials. The EDL itself will have various security features within the document to prevent improper use. The WHTI-compliant EDL will cost $30 more than a current state driver license, but will cost less than a U.S. passport. "The development of this license will help to ease long lines at our New York-Canada crossings, allowing commerce to flow more freely and securely in and out of the state," Gov. Paterson stated. "It represents a major step forward that will help the upstate economy and offer a convenience for all New Yorkers who travel in North America. I commend the Department of Motor Vehicles and the federal Department of Homeland Security for working out an agreement that allows New York to proceed with the enhanced driver license." The governor's announcement has garnered support from the Plattsburgh-North Country Chamber of Commerce, which has been actively advocating in Washington and Albany for delay and flexibility in the implementation of WHTI and for the earliest possible availability of EDLs in New York State and Quebec. In a statement issued Tuesday, chamber president Garry F. Douglas commended Gov. Paterson's announcement. "We thank Governor Paterson and all of our representatives in Washington, especially Congressman John McHugh and Sen. Charles Schumer, for securing this agreement," stated Douglas. "The delay of WHTI by Congress until June of 2009 was meant to give everyone sufficient time to do exactly what is now happening, the development and implementation of a number of alternatives for acceptable border ID. And, New York State is now stepping forward as one of the leaders in making EDLs available as an option." Douglas noted it is important to the North Country that Quebec and Ontario also finalize agreements this year, and reported Quebec government representatives are indicating plans to have EDLs available to Quebec residents by December. Oral declarations of citizenship and identity from U.S. and Canadian citizens ages 19 and older have been deemed officially unacceptable for entering the U.S. However, those who approach the border without proper documentation are still being allowed to cross, and are given informational literature about WHTI so they may become compliant. Proper documentation currently consists of a single-document or two-document option. The single document option includes a Native American Tribal Photo Identification Card, Form I-872 American Indian Card, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada Card, U.S. Merchant Mariner document, U.S. Military identification with military travel orders or a U.S. or Canadian passport. Pre-authorized traveler cards such as NEXUS, SENTRI and FAST cards are also accepted. A U.S. passport card will also be an acceptable form of identification when the document becomes available. Applications for passport cards are currently being accepted by the U.S. Department of State. The two-document option allows travelers to furnish a government-issued identification which possesses a photo, name and date of birth, and documentation which proves citizenship, such as a U.S. or Canadian birth certificate. Children ages 18 and younger are only required to present proof of citizenship. Full implementation of WHTI is scheduled for as early as June 1, 2009. At that time, Americans will be required to carry a passport or other form of single document proof of citizenship and identity. For more information about the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, log on to the Department of State Web site at www.travel.state.gov or the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Web site at www.cbp.gov, or call the U.S. National Passport Information Center at 1-877-487-2778.

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