Truckers’ FAST cards will substitute for passports

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Beginning in 2008, U.S. citizens will be required to show their passports when returning from Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean, but truckers who regularly cross the border will be able to show their Free and Secure Trade cards instead.

The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative goes into effect Jan. 1, 2008. It is supposed to prevent potential terrorists from crossing into the country through other North American countries.

“Our goal is to strengthen border security and expedite entry into the United States for U.S. citizens and legitimate foreign visitors,” said Randy Beardsworth, an acting undersecretary in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

U.S. citizens now are required to show only their driver’s licenses to re-enter from Mexico and Canada. Some border crossing officials have begun asking for additional documents since Sept. 11, 2001. It is estimated that only 20 percent of Americans have a passport.

The FAST card would be an acceptable passport substitute for “commercial truck drivers at both the northern and southern borders,” said Elaine Dezenski, an acting assistant secretary in the Department of Homeland Security. “With the FAST program, we have specific requirements, including background checks, documentation requirements and biometric requirements.”

The FAST program as originally announced by U.S. Customs was voluntary, a way for drivers, fleets, importers and border manufacturers to earn expedited “low-risk” border clearance – even in times of heightened security alerts – by submitting a one-time-only application, including a security profile.

The latest announcement, however, means either a FAST card or a passport soon will be mandatory for the return trip of any cross-border haul.

The U.S. Customs website explains how to get a FAST card, while the U.S. State Department website explains how to get a passport.