By Scott Stewart and Fred Burton, Stratfor
On June 1, 2009, the land and sea portion of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) will go into effect. The WHTI is a program launched as a result of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 and intended to standardize the documents required to enter the United States. The stated goal of WHTI is to facilitate entry for U.S. citizens and legitimate foreign visitors while reducing the possibility of people entering the country using fraudulent documents.
Prior to the WHTI, American travelers to Mexico, Canada and several countries in the Caribbean needed only a driver’s license and birth certificate to re-enter the United States, while American travelers to other regions of the world required U.S. passports to return. This meant that immigration officials had to examine driver’s licenses and birth certificates from every state, and since the driver’s licenses and birth certificates of all the states change over time, there were literally hundreds of different types of documents that could be used by travelers at points of entry. In practical terms, this meant there was no way immigration officers could be familiar with the security features of each identification document, thereby making it easier for foreigners to use counterfeit or fraudulently altered documents to enter the country by claiming to be returning U.S. citizens.
The air portion of the WHTI went into effect in January 2007 and required that all international air travelers use passports to enter the United States. However, the land and sea implementation of WHTI will be a little different from the air portion. In addition to passports, travelers can also use U.S. passport cards (a driver’s license-sized identification document), an enhanced driver’s license (which are currently being issued by Michigan, New York, Vermont and Washington) or “special trusted” traveler identification cards such as Nexus and Sentri to enter the country by land or sea.
The WHTI will greatly simplify the number of travel documents that immigration officials have to scrutinize. It will also mean that the documents needed to enter the United States will be far harder to counterfeit, alter or obtain by fraud than the documents previously required for entry. This will make it more difficult for criminals, illegal aliens and militants to enter the United States, but it will by no means make it impossible.