Havre Daily News
A former congressman from Montana has raised concerns that an initiative to require passports to cross the U.S.-Canadian border would hurt tourism and trade.
Ron Marlenee, a Republican who represented eastern Montana from 1976 to 1992 when Montana still had two congressional districts, said in an interview Tuesday that he wants the proposal axed. Congress has the opportunity to eliminate the requirement, set to take effect in 2008, when it reviews the USA Patriot Act in coming months, Marlenee said.
“I've lived along the Canadian border all of my life ... and realize the impact that this mandate for passports would bring about,” Marlenee said. He maintains a residence near his birthplace in Scobey and also lives near Bozeman. “I would like to have the policy makers put an amendment in the Patriot Act that would remove the mandate for passports,” hesaid.
Marlenee is discussing the issue with staffers of Montana's congressional delegation, has given the state Chamber of Commerce information, and is in the process of forming a committee called Citizens Against Requiring Official Passports. He's also contacted federal lawmakers in Idaho and Alaska.
He said he feels a bit like the Lone Ranger.
“I'm the only one out there providing information,” Marlenee said.
A U.S. Customs and Border Protection official has said the new requirement, which was adopted by Congress, will speed up the inspection process along the border by giving agents a uniform document to review, and improve security on the Canadian and Mexican borders.
“Some of the things we do are popular and some things we do are not popular, but they are the result of laws and regulations, and they are to enhance border security,” U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Mike Milne said today.
He said the departments of State and Homeland Security are in the process of implementing the regulations, and are soliciting public comments on the proposal.
Marlenee, who calls the mandate “draconian,” said most of the people he's talked to on either side of the border are “incensed that this is taking place.”
“I think the people that live in the area understand personal relationships that they have back and forth across the border,” Marlenee said. “It's a personal relationship as much as it is a trade relationship.”
He mentioned places like Plentywood, where Canadians sit on the board of the local country club, and Glasgow, where local children practice hockey on Canadian ice while they await the completion of their own rink.
Some Canadian families, once the mandate is enacted, may decide to visit Calgary instead of taking the time to travel to Havre, where they might sightsee, dine and stay at a local hotel. He also worries that U.S. citizens will be less likely to visit Canada if the mandate takes effect. The cost of a passport - in excess of $90 - may make some American families think twice, he said.
Marlenee said he has “reason to believe” that U.S. lawmakers have considered adding microchip technology to passports, allowing government officials to keep track of where citizens use them. He called the technology an “extreme solution” that would be “totally unacceptable.”
“It could and it would contain a whole ledger full of information about you as an individual,” Marlenee said.