Jan 23 2007

New passport rules frustrate last-minute travelers

Effective today, the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) requires passports for all air travel between the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Latin America.

Today the New York Times reports on the problems the new rule has caused for would-be last-minute travellers from the U.S., especially business travellers, who find out they need to travel too late to obtain a passport by mail, and thus have to apply in person at a U.S. State Department Passport Office or through a commercial passport and visa expediting service. The numbers of last-minute applicants have exceeded the capacity of the Passport service, frsutrating travellers and causing some of them to lose potential business.

This is exactly what the Identity Project predicted in comments filed with the DHS and the State Department when these new WHTI rules were proposed last year.

In its assessment of the cost burden of the proposed rules, the DHS and the State Department considered only regular passport applications (supposedly six to eight weeks processing time, although we recently heard from someone who received their passport more than five months after they applied) and expedited two-week service by mail. They made no mention of what happens when a psasport is needed in less than two weeks.

In our comments, we pointed out this omission, and gave a detailed breakdown of the escalating costs of obtaining a passport more quickly, as well as of the consequential costs of trips that would be impossible becaase a passport couldn’t be obtained quickly enough.

The DHS dismissed our comments out of hand, in a response to comments published in the _Federal Register_ in November along with the final rule that goes into effect today:


One commenter argued that the cost to obtain a passport is significantly underestimated because the time estimated to obtain a passport is too low.


We appreciate this comment and the detail that accompanied the estimate provided in the comment. However, the commenter presented an estimate that was overly pessimistic and represented an absolute ‘‘worst-case’’ scenario that would rarely, if ever, be realized.

The final WHTI cost assessment continued to ignore any of the implications of passports applied for in person or needed in less than two weeks.

As today’s story in the Times shows, the “worst-case scenario” we predicted has already been realized, even before the new rules have taken effect.

It’s time to end the DHS’s extra-judicial and unconstitutional interference with internationally recognized human rights to freedom of travel.