If you've driven back across the Mexican border lately, you know the wait can sometimes take up to three hours. Officials have talked about speeding up this process by adding more lanes or more border agents, but San Diego Senator Ben Hueso hopes to change that with a new enhanced driver's license program for California drivers.
Senate Bill 397, which just cleared the state senate this week, would allow drivers in possession of the enhanced licenses to cross in and out of Mexico from California using special "ready lanes." Similar programs in Michigan, New York, Vermont and Washington have been successful in expediting border crossing into Canada.
The new licenses, which are similar to standard driver's licenses, will be equipped with a radio frequency chip that will relay a driver's information to the customs agent at the border crossing. The chip relays information like the driver's name, photo, and citizenship to the border agent who can then wave the driver on through.
"It will be a simple number that can be translated to a federal databank — that only the federal government has — that will have information relating to who the person is," said Hueso. "The driver's license will be contained in a custom sheath will prevent it from sending out the frequency until its removed at the time that someone is crossing the border."
Hueso estimates that the new licenses will reduce wait times at the border by 30 percent, possibly injecting billions of dollars into the economy.
"Our economy could grow and this is something that made me more interested in pushing this idea forward in that its also an economic development initiative," said Hueso.
But there are critics of the plan, including the ACLU, which is concerned that identity theft would be an issue, and that someone would be able to get access to the information contained in the federal databank that will house driver information. Hueso says that will not be an issue.
"There has never been an incident in that area where federal documents have been stolen for the purposes of stealing somebody's identity," said Hueso. "We're very confident that people's identities will be protected."
Senator Ben Hueso represents the 40th Senate District, which includes the cities of Chula Vista, National City, Imperial Beach, Coronado a portion of the City of San Diego, Imperial County, and the southern part of Riverside.