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WASHINGTON - Nineteen senators, including five from Washington state, Idaho and Alaska, asked the Department of Homeland Security on Monday to delay new border-crossing rules that will mean longer lines and stiffer demands for identification for people entering the United States from Canada.
In a letter to DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff, the senators said commerce will be stifled and lives disrupted if federal officials go ahead Thursday with plans to end the practice of allowing people to enter after showing a document, such as a driver's license, and declaring their nationality.
But federal officials say the "honor system" must end now.
"I understand the need for greater scrutiny of those coming over our northern border," said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. "But this new requirement will only make a bad situation worse. Creating this policy now - without any uniform proof of citizenship, without a major public awareness campaign, and without additional support for our overstretched border patrol - will frustrate citizens and won't provide any new security assurances."
The plan's only certainty is that "it will slow traffic and commerce over our northern border," Murray said.
Idaho Sens. Larry Craig and Mike Crapo, and Alaska Sens. Ted Stevens and Lisa Murkowski were among 10 Republicans who signed the letter.
The senators say that implementing the new rules now would violate the spirit of a law passed last month that delays until June 2009 a requirement that people carry passports or similar documents when entering the United States by land or sea. The lawmakers want Chertoff to delay the new identification requirements until the so-called Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative is fully implemented.