Customs officials get ready for enhanced licenses

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(Host) Security at the U.S.-Canadian border is about to get a lot tighter.

But customs officials say advances in technology should make it easier and quicker for motorists to get across the border.

VPR’s Ross Sneyd has this update.

(Sneyd) The days of being waved into the United States after a few quick questions with a border guard are long over.

Now, the day is about to arrive when a simple driver’s license and a birth certificate won’t be enough, either.

(Markolin) "Those original documents, sort of that in-between period, those documents will not be adequate.”

(Sneyd) John Markolin is in charge of U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Vermont.

What his agents really want to know when you come up to a border station is who you are … what your citizenship is … where you live.

And the federal government is no longer willing to simply take your word for any of that.

Starting June first, you’ve got to prove it with a high-tech ID.

That could be the "enhanced drivers’ licenses” that Vermont has begun to issue. Or special new pass cards – similar to a passport – that the federal government offers.

Both of those IDs contain a tiny radio frequency chip that Markolin says will transmit a signal and send border guards all the information needed for admittance into the United States.

(Markolin) "This kind of sends it all in a bundle and presents it to that officer. … I think it’s a real benefit. It adds layers of security for all people, for the country, for people who are trying to obtain admission, for the officers that are working and for the local community.”

(Sneyd) Markolin says passports and other documentation will still be accepted. But he says the new enhanced IDs will help people clear Customs much faster.

The border station in Derby Line already has the equipment to read the enhanced IDs. Work is under way this week at Highgate Springs to put in the same equipment.

None of that will make any difference, though, if travelers don’t have IDs implanted with the specialized chips.

Vermont Motor Vehicles Commissioner Bonnie Rutledge says the state already has issued 1,500 enhanced drivers’ licenses.

She expects much greater demand – about 30 percent of the half-million people who hold a Vermont license. She says an awful lot of them will probably line up as the June first deadline approaches.

(Rutledge) "I’ve worked here at the department for 38 years and I know human nature is wait until you absolutely have to have it. So I expect we will have quite an onslaught come the end of May, into June.”

(Sneyd) The new licenses cost an extra $25 and, for now, are only available at the DMV’s headquarters in Montpelier.

For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd.

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