News Room

January 31, 2008

"Our nation needs safe, smart and fast ports in a post 9/11 world. What I fear is that an election-driven agenda from the far right-wing is influencing the governor's decision. Hopefully, we can reach agreement on what is best for Texas and America."

Written by Senator Eliot Shapleigh,


EL PASO –  Today, Governor Rick Perry announced his intention to block implementation of the Enhanced Driver's License (EDL) program in Texas.  The enhanced driver's license is a state license embedded with technology, which allows it also to be used as a border-crossing document on the US-Mexico border.  

Under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), a homeland security measure passed by Congress in 2004, the government is ending the routine practice of accepting oral declarations of citizenship alone at land and sea ports for U.S. citizens returning from Mexico, Canada, and Bermuda.  

In Texas, as of Jan. 31, border crossers will need a Texas driver's license plus a birth certificate, in the absence of a U.S. Passport, to enter the United States.

Other Northern and Southern Border states have anticipated the new rules by passing enhanced driver's license legislation and signing memorandums of understanding (MOUs) with DHS to implement their programs.  Washington State launched its EDL program this year to a warm reception.  Arizona and Vermont signed their EDL agreement with DHS in 2006.  Michigan is also looking at the program for their state.

"Our nation needs safe, smart and fast ports in a post 9/11 world.  What I fear is that an election-driven agenda from the far right-wing is influencing the governor's decision," said Senator Eliot Shapleigh (D-El Paso).  "Hopefully, we can reach agreement on what is best for Texas and America."

In 2007, Senator Shapleigh filed legislation based on Washington State to introduce the enhanced driver’s license pilot program in Texas.  Under the bill, the new licenses would include radio frequency ID chips and other advanced security features. The new licenses would be less vulnerable to forgery and cost 50 percent less than the alternative—purchasing a separate state driver's license and a federal passport card or passport.

“Our border is the most vibrant region of the hemisphere with over 68 million legal crossings a year. With passport requirements beginning today, we need to make secure, fast crossings work for all who live and work in our region,” Shapleigh said.

The bill passed as a provision attached to SB 11, the major homeland security bill of the session.  Perry passed SB 11 into law in June but made a point of expressing concern about the enhanced driver’s license provision.

"Although I am signing this bill, it is important to point out the provision in Senate Bill No. 11 which allows the Department of Public Safety to create an enhanced driver's license to cross the Texas/Mexico border,” Perry said at the time.  "This provision conflicts with current federal law which states that a United States passport must be used to cross international borders. While frequent travelers to Mexico argue that the use of a passport creates an unnecessary burden, this is not a decision to be made at the state level."

On January 22, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott contradicted Governor Perry's legal interpretation of the EDL Program.  In an eight-page opinion, Abbott said an enhanced driver’s license is consistent with the current federal law on passports provided it is approved by Homeland Security Secretary and conforms to the technology, security, and operational requirements of the WHTI.  

In addition, U.S. Senator John Cornyn wrote in a letter to Perry in November 2006, “I support this pilot program and believe it will facilitate the ability of U.S. citizens to quickly meet the new WHTI requirements.”

The Texas EDL Program would benefit Texans in three key areas:

  • EDL Secures Border Travel –  The Texas enhanced driver's license program increases border security by allowing more Texans into a system where their border travel can be monitored and individuals can be accurately identified.  Having a single document for border travelers allows the federal and state governments to identify threats to security more readily. 
  • EDL Saves Texans' Money – The Texas enhanced driver's license is less costly than requiring working Texans to purchase two documents: a Texas driver's license and a U.S. Passport or Passport Card.  The EDL will save Texans 50 percent on their border travel documents.
  • EDL Promotes Texas Business –  Today, Texas trades more with Mexico than all the European Union nations combined.  Also, 85 percent of trade with Mexico passes through Texas ports. 
Texas has 1,200 miles of a 2,000 mile Southern Border, and has more to gain from enhanced, secure trade than any other state.  With over 68 million legal crossings a year on the US-Mexico border, Texas must work for safe, fast and secure transportation of people and products.  The EDL is a solution for border businesses, security and Texas' prosperity.  

- END -

Related Stories