Before January 2008, United States and Canadian citizens were not required to present specific travel documents when entering the United States through a land or sea port. That meant that a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer might only have the traveler’s word on which to base his or her decision to allow someone to enter the United States. Not surprisingly, this practice significantly hampered our ability to quickly verify a traveler's identity or citizenship, determine if they pose a threat, and importantly, hampered our ability to speed legitimate travelers across the border. Every day, CBP encountered hundreds of individuals trying to game the system and pass themselves off as American or Canadian—an untenable scenario that turned each traveler into a potential imposter.
On June 1, CBP will implement the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), a result of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 and a key recommendation of the 9/11 Commission that requires U.S. and Canadian travelers to present a secure travel document that denotes identity and citizenship when entering our country. WHTI narrows the list of acceptable identity and citizenship documents to those in which we have great confidence because of their issuance process and physical security features. As a result, WHTI will strengthen our borders as we facilitate entry for U.S. citizens and legitimate foreign travelers – a core component of CBP's mission.
CBP is fully prepared to implement WHTI—we have ensured that you, the traveling public, have a choice among travel documents to best meet your needs; we have installed infrastructure in our ports to make your entry and inspection process go more quickly and more smoothly; and we have worked hard to communicate the new requirements to you well in advance of the June 1 deadline. We have also heard your concerns and made special provisions to accommodate U.S. and Canadian children under age 16—and those under age 19 traveling in school, sports, religious or other office groups—who need only present a copy of a birth certificate or alternative proof of citizenship to enter the United States by land or sea from Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean.
Now we need your help to make these improvements to our border security as successful as they can be. We encourage you to obtain WHTI-compliant travel documents for entering the U.S. on June 1 and beyond. Approved documents include the traditional passport book as well as cards that are equipped with radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to make your trip even faster and more efficient: the U.S. passport card, a NEXUS, SENTRI or FAST Trusted Traveler Program card, or a state- or province-issued enhanced drivers license.
RFID-enabled documents are easy to use. When entering the United States from Mexico (or Canada), hold up your travel card (and those of any passengers in your car), drive slowly toward the inspection booth, and stop for an interview with the officer. The automated read of the RFID tag (a unique number that contains no personally identifiable information) links to a secure CBP database. Before you arrive at the booth, the CBP officer can review your photograph, biographic information, and the results of law enforcement checks. By queuing up this information while you’re still driving toward the booth, the officer can more quickly verify your identity and focus more attention on talking to you while shaving 6 – 8 seconds off of the current inspection process. Because all the RFID-enabled travel cards can be read at one time, it saves the officer from having to manually type information about each individual in your car.
We realize that some travelers arriving at the border will not have WHTI-compliant documents. I encourage you to continue with your travel plans and to obtain facilitative and secure WHTI travel documents as soon as possible. U.S. and Canadian citizens who lack WHTI-compliant documents but are otherwise admissible will not be denied entry into the United States on June 1 and during the subsequent transition period.
Obtaining a WHTI-approved document and complying with the law will help make our borders more secure. Getting your WHTI-compliant document will help make your border crossings easier and faster.
For more information on new documents that go into effect on June 1, please visit www.getyouhome.gov.
Jayson P. Ahern
Acting Commissioner, U.S. Customs and Border Protection
Originally published in the May 30, 2009 edition of the Houston Chronicle
Preparing for hurricanes – or any disaster, for that matter – is one of our highest priorities at the Department of Homeland Security. Over the past few months, we have worked very closely with our state, local, and tribal partners to ensure we are in a strong position to support their efforts should a major disaster strike that requires federal assistance.
In Florida, Craig and I visited Lake Mary, just outside Orlando, where FEMA operates a response and recovery center and toured a FEMA logistics warehouse in Orlando that plays a critical role in staging and moving supplies and commodities during emergencies.
We also met with state and local leaders in Miami and toured Department of Homeland Security operations at the Port of Miami, where the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection all work together to protect port operations and prevent the entry of illegal drugs, migrants, and counterfeit goods.
Our trip to Florida follows our teleconference last week with governors from across the country to discuss hurricane season. Our message was clear and simple: we are preparing for this year’s hurricane season and we stand ready to support our state, local, and tribal partners should they need assistance. (updated 5/29/09 9:30am)
At FEMA and across the Department, we have worked hard to improve preparedness in three main areas:
- We are better organized. We have a new National Shelter System that contains information for thousands of emergency shelter resources nationwide. This will allow us to provide temporary sheltering assistance faster and in a more orderly fashion.
- We are better coordinated. We have coordinated regional evacuation and emergency communication plans with our state, local, tribal, and private sector partners, and have secured more options for temporary housing in the event of a disaster.
- We are better connected. We frequently host video teleconferences among federal, state and local leaders so that we all can share new information and best practices and work together to improve preparedness and identify any gaps in our planning.
On Wednesday I had the opportunity to meet with the families of two fallen Border Patrol agents who gave their lives in the service of our Department and our nation.
Senior Border Patrol Agent Luis Aguilar and Border Patrol Agent Jarod Dittman were killed in the line of duty last year as they performed their responsibilities as Border Patrol agents working to protect our Southwest border.
Agent Aguilar was struck and killed by the driver of a vehicle attempting to evade capture near Calexico, California and return into Mexico. The driver of that vehicle is now in federal custody in Mexico and faces second-degree murder charges and federal narcotics violations in the United States. Agent Dittman was killed in a vehicle accident in Jamul, California in the early morning hours while en route to his patrol area.
I assured the family members that we will never forget the sacrifices made by their loved ones. While no words can ever repay their loss, this week the names of both agents were inscribed into the CBP Valor Memorial in Washington, D.C. to stand as a permanent tribute to their service.
On Wednesday, Agent Aguilar and Agent Dittman's names also were added to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, along with 131 officers who died in the line of duty in 2008. As part of National Police Week 2009, I attended a candlelight vigil on Wednesday evening in their honor.
It is sometimes easy to forget the sacrifices our law enforcement officers and their families make on a daily basis as they protect our communities and the American people – and the very real dangers they encounter while on the job. This is a good time to honor the memories of those who have fallen, and give thanks to those who keep our nation safe.
This is a complicated subject, so I want to provide a little background. Becoming a permanent resident based on employment can require a number of steps, including obtaining a labor certification from the Department of Labor, receiving approval on a petition for alien worker from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) (Form I-140) and obtaining an immigrant visa from the Department of State or being granted adjustment of status from USCIS. In addition, by law there are numerical limits on the number of people who can immigrate to the U.S. each year in most categories. You can see a more detailed explanation about the employment-based visa application process online.
Some readers have asked about the volume of employment applications and delays that have occurred in employment-based visa petition and adjustment application processing in late 2007 and early 2008. There were a number of factors that affected USCIS' handling of these cases during that time. Employers filed more than 234,000 petitions to sponsor foreign workers (Form I-140) as the Department of Labor cleared a large backlog of labor certification applications and implemented new regulations. Adjustment-of-status application filings also soared to nearly 300,000. We attribute the increase in adjustment application filings to a couple things. First, customers' anticipation of USCIS' filing fee increase in July 2007. Second, a unique opportunity for workers and their families to file adjustment applications based on the visa availability date announced in the July 2007 Immigrant Visa Bulletin. Many of these availability dates have since reverted, creating a backlog of adjustment applications that cannot be adjudicated until a visa becomes available.
A few months ago, a customer indicated his frustration that while he can monitor the Visa Bulletin to see how it moves month to month, he still has no idea how many people are waiting in line with pending adjustment applications or how long it may be before USCIS can process and approve his application. We know this customer is not alone! In response to that customer's request, we are working to make this information available on our Web site.
I understand the importance of becoming a permanent resident. I also recognize workers may rightly want to take advantage of the limited provisions in current law that allow certain applicants to change employers without affecting their ability to adjust status. As a result, USCIS has taken the following steps:
- USCIS has increased the emphasis on processing employment-based petitions. Our goal is to complete adjudication on the older I-140 petitions and to process newer petitions within our targeted processing time of four months. We are making progress toward this goal and anticipate reaching this goal by the end of September 2009.
- USCIS is issuing employment authorization documents valid for two years, as needed.
- USCIS is working with the State Department to make sure we use every available visa number. In 2007, we had more visas available in the family-based categories than were needed, so as permitted by law, we transferred those available family-based visas for use in the employment-based application process.
Acting Deputy Director, USCIS
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Last week I traveled to Mexico, with brief stops in California and Texas. The purpose of my visit was to meet with my foreign counterparts, assess the situation on the Southwest Border with respect to drug cartel violence, hear directly from federal, state, tribal, and local officials, and announce some additional resources we are deploying to the border to help Mexico in its fight against these dangerous cartels.
In California, I met with state and local leaders in San Diego, toured the border and visited the Otay Mesa port of entry – one of the busiest commercial ports on the Southwest border.
More than $400 million in Recovery Act funds is being directed to the Southwest border. This money will be used to upgrade infrastructure at the ports of entry, add technology and inspection equipment, and strengthen our surveillance and communications capabilities.
In Mexico, I visited with my foreign counterparts, and along with Attorney General Holder, attended an important conference on arms trafficking. The smuggling of guns is a serious problem and contributes to a lot of the violence we’re seeing in Mexico among the drug cartels and organized criminal networks.
To combat the problem, we are moving substantial resources to border, including more than 360 additional DHS officers and agents, license plate readers that will allow us to scan for suspect vehicles, southbound rail screening, and additional grant funding for state and local law enforcement. These measures will help us counter the flow of guns and cash into Mexico while protecting cities and communities along the border.
Finally, on my return, I stopped in Laredo, Texas to meet with community leaders, speak with members of the Laredo Border Enforcement Security Task Force (BEST), which is a multi-agency law enforcement team that fights criminal organizations and smugglers, and visit the Laredo port of entry. In recent weeks, we’ve made several significant seizures of cash and guns in Laredo, including more than $3 million discovered in a hidden compartment in the floor of a bus bound for Mexico.
Examples like this impede the ability of criminal organizations to fund their activities. Since the start of this fiscal year, CBP and ICE together have seized more than $55 million in cash, over 630 weapons, and nearly 125,000 rounds of ammunition.
We’re going to continue to keep the pressure on. I consider this a historic opportunity to help Mexico confront a serious threat that impacts the safety and security of both of our countries. We all have a stake in this fight, and here at the Department we’re going to continue to do our part to make sure we succeed.
Today the Department took a major step forward to advance one of President Obama's most important goals – improving efficiency and transparency across the Federal government.
Efficiency is essential to effective governance. It helps reduce costs and ensure taxpayer money isn’t wasted. It improves performance and customer satisfaction. And it strengthens employee morale.
Over the next 120 days, we will begin implementing nearly two dozen initiatives to trim costs, streamline operations, eliminate duplication, and better manage resources across the Department.
This effort is the result of a comprehensive assessment by our Efficiency Review team, which worked with DHS components, offices, and employees to identify more than 700 initiatives – some immediate, some long-term – to improve efficiency and transparency.
Among the immediate changes we will make over the next 30 days:
- Eliminating all non-mission critical travel for employees and maximizing our use of conference calls and web-based training and meetings;
- Reducing subscriptions to professional publications and newspapers to lower costs and avoid duplication;
- Eliminating printing and distribution of all reports and documents that can be sent electronically or posted on-line.
We're also going to take action to improve how we track and monitor fuel usage for our vehicles. Over the next 60 days, we will begin implementing a new electronic tracking system that will help increase alternative fuel usage; guard against waste, fraud, and abuse; and optimize how we manage our fleet.
In addition, we will begin acquiring hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles over the next 120 days. We expect a 30 percent increase in fuel efficiency in large vehicles, and even greater efficiency in smaller vehicles as a result of this change.
To become more energy efficient, we will also begin implementing energy efficiencies at DHS offices across the country. Over the next 120 days, we will initiate a process to identify and move toward renewable energy technology and greater energy conservation, with a goal of saving $3 million per year.
Over the next 60 days, we will also implement a process to purchase computer software licenses as a single Department – as opposed to individual agencies. As a result, we expect to save over $47 million per year and $283 million over the next six years.
Finally, we’re going to take steps to streamline employee training and orientations, and reduce costs and backlogs associated with background checks for new employees.
This is just the beginning. In the coming months, we’ll announce even more initiatives to improve efficiency. I look forward to keeping you updated as we make these changes, which will result in a stronger, more effective DHS.
March 23, 2009 - The Coast Guard Service Secretary Transfer of Authority officially recognized the transfer of authority as service secretary of the Coast Guard from former Secretary Michael Chertoff to Secretary Janet Napolitano. Commandant of the Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen spoke at the ceremony in Washington, D.C.