Nexus could expedite PASS card development

While the Homeland Security and the State departments argue over smart-card technologies for the People Access Security Service card ' and Congress raises its own doubts ' officials might be overlooking a solution in the form of the Nexus highway program.

'Nexus is a program we're looking at as we develop the PASS card. Nexus could be the model,' said John Wagner, Customs and Border Protection Directorate's director of traveler security and facilitation. CBP administers the Nexus program with the Canadian government.

Nexus is a binational trusted traveler program that expedites U.S.-Canada border crossings. The Nexus card lets low-risk travelers cross quickly, while CBP officers focus on high-risk travelers.

The idea for a PASS card ' which frequent border-crossers could use instead of a passport ' arose out of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which originally had set a deadline of Jan. 1, 2008.

It will require individuals entering the U.S. to carry identification that verifies citizenship and identity. The PASS card would do both.

The DHS spending bill extended the PASS card deadline to June 2009.

Some members of Congress have criticized the PASS card for not being a binational program.

Rep. Louise M. Slaughter (D-N.Y.) has been urging DHS and State since April 2005 to use Nexus as a model.

'Nexus is a good model for how the U.S. and Canada should be working together to develop the PASS card. Unfortunately, DHS and State are pursuing the development of the PASS card and leaving Canada completely out of the conversation,' said John Santore, a Slaughter spokesman.

As part of the Nexus program, the U.S. and Canada share an integrated information system called the Global Enrollment System. It is hosted on an internal Customs and Border Protection server.

The system is updated every 24 hours, so information stays current on each traveler, said Nexus' Wagner.

State and DHS have disagreed over the type of radio frequency identification technology the PASS card will use.

DHS has touted ultrahigh-frequency, or vicinity RFID, while State advocates high-frequency short-range, or proximity devices.

The Nexus program uses vicinity RFID. Travelers wave the card in front of a reader that picks up the frequency and transmits traveler information as a file number to border patrol officers in a booth.

On-screen only

Wagner said no personal information is exchanged across the frequency; it only appears on the border officer's monitor.

While DHS and State are disputing technology, Slaughter's camp has a larger concern.
'DHS did not ask for any money in the [fiscal] '07 budget to develop the necessary PASS infrastructure. Regardless of which technology they choose to use, they are going to need money to put it into practice,' Santore said.

Requirements for Nexus membership are more stringent than those for receiving a passport, Santore added.

Nexus card carriers must be citizens or permanent residents of the U.S. or Canada. They must fill out an application, pay a $50 fee, go through an interview and be subjected to a background check.

Officials still are determining the PASS card requirements.

To qualify for the Nexus card, a traveler must have no violations on their record.
Any minor violation acquired after they have become a member will immediately disqualify them from the program, said Kelly Klundt, spokeswoman for Customs and Border Protection

Greg Boos, a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and a Nexus program user, said, 'Their zero tolerance on enrollment is a big problem. If you have one customs violation or problem with the law, you will not be admitted to the program. There is no formal appeals process, so you can't even challenge it.'

Boos gave the real-life example of a mother whose young child, unbeknownst to her, grabs an orange in the grocery store. The orange ends up under the seat of the family van, and two days later she is stopped at the border crossing, where her car is searched and border agents find the orange.

Since no fruit or vegetables are allowed across the border, the woman has violated customs and is immediately removed from the program.

High popularity

Nexus remains popular among users. In fact, the program accepted its 100,000th member last week.

But the program does have a few drawbacks.

Officials are concerned, for instance, about the price and availability of the Nexus card. Slaughter is working to get the application fee down to $20 from $50.

Wagner said customs is working toward introducing online enrollment soon.

Details still are being worked out between the U.S. and Canada, but they hope to take the whole process online.


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