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Security Chief Considering Passport Alternative

By Joyce Kryszak

Buffalo, NY – Local leaders gained some ground Monday in their struggle to bridge differences with Homeland Security over a tougher border crossing policy.

The noisy Peace Bridge plaza was a powerful reminder Monday of how busy this border crossing is. Local officials pled with the Secretary of Homeland Security to keep it that way.

After a six month delay, passports, or some form of identification compliant with the new Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, will be required sometime next summer.

And statistics already show that's slowing commerce.

United States Representative Louis Slaughter thinks enhanced drivers' licenses are sufficient.

Security Chief Michael Chertoff conceded that might be some acceptable alternative.

Chertoff agreed to meet with Slaughter and Governor Eliot Spitzer within 30 days to work on creating a so-called, secure or technologically enhanced drivers' license.

But he said it would only be an option if developed quickly by border states.

And that's because heavy Peace Bridge traffic wasn't the only backdrop to Monday's meeting. Chertoff also met with some families of 9-11 victims.

Western New York Native Beverly Eckert lost her husband Sean Rooney on 9-11. She said tighter border security is long overdue. Eckert and some other 9-11 families believe passport alternatives are flawed.

Federally compliant nexus and pass cards are other alternatives.

Children under 15 and older teens traveling with a school or recognized group would need only birth certificates. As a lead up to the tougher policies, however, adults will need to show a driver's license and a birth certificate after January.

Chertoff said 60 additional customs agents will be sent and overtime added to help ease border congestion.

But he said look for them to stay on the American side. Chertoff said a shared border management agreement is a dead issue.

That decision has been vigorously fought by local leaders and residents. They say moving the inspections would allow for a more environmentally friendly Peace Bridge plaza replacement.

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