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Did You Know... CBP Works With Tribal Governments to Modernize Travel Documents?

The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, or WHTI, implements a key 9/11 Commission recommendation that requires incoming travelers from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean to present a passport or other highly secure document as an alternate to a passport that denotes both identity and citizenship.

The WHTI Final Rule allows states-through enhanced driver's licenses-or the U.S. Federally Recognized Tribes to create stand alone documents as an alternate to a passport for entering the U.S. via the land and sea ports of entry.
U.S. tribes may develop enhanced tribal cards, or ETCs, because of the unique historical relationship they have with the federal government. The U.S. Constitution acknowledges that the federal government, where appropriate, may designate members of federally recognized tribes for special treatment. Treaties, legislation, Supreme Court decisions and even the War of 1812 with England have shaped this special relationship.

However, the Constitution, Supreme Court decisions or federal statutes and treaties do not require the application of this special relationship unilaterally. In many cases, unique circumstances between a tribe or group of tribes and the federal government shape the relationship.

For WHTI, CBP's involvement with federally recognized tribes began during the rule-making process and continues with the implementation. CBP has a process of conferring, consulting and negotiating with tribal authorities as they develop and implement ETCs for their members. The starting point is a memorandum of agreement between CBP and the tribal authority that outlines the business roles and responsibilities as well as the facilitative technologies, data share, and the final product and terms of acceptance.

The first MOA was signed between CBP and the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho on March 2, 2009, at a formal ceremony at CBP headquarters by then-Acting Commissioner Jayson Ahern and Jennifer Porter, chairperson of the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho. The agreement establishes ETC as a means to document an individual's identity, tribal membership and citizenship.

Since that time, ten more tribes have officially submitted an ETC MOA to CBP. Of those, CBP has signed an MOA with four more trides-the Pascua Yaqui of Arizona, the Seneca of New York, the Tohono O'odham of Arizona, and the Coquille of Oregon. As Seneca President Barry Snyder noted at the signing ceremony for his tribal nation and CBP, "This agreement is significant for several reasons, the most obvious of which is that it will not hinder our ability to cross the border."

Through the Tribal Homeland Security Grant Program, DHS provides monies to the tribes for ETC production. Grant applications for 2010 closed on April 19. The grant monies are annual and tribes may reapply each year.

On July 26, 2010, the Pascua Yaqui began producing an ETC. Other tribes are expected to begin production in late 2010 and into 2011.

For the Department of Homeland Security, the ETC initiative with tribal nations is the first step in a larger process. Secretary Janet Napolitano has stated that "...we will continue to build on these efforts-from secure identification to preparing for emergencies-with our tribal partners across the country."

The tribes also recognize the additional benefits of ETCs beyond their use at land or water border crossings. As reported by Indian Country Today, Chief James Ransom of the St. Regis Mohawk tribe hopes to develop the ETC and use it at St. Regis' "...health clinic, for [tribal] voting and for other activities requiring identification."

The CBP History Program is documenting these landmark agreements between CBP and tribal authorities because these actions will impact not only the implementation of WHTI, but also influence future initiatives.