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Enhanced Tribal Card Can Be Used Instead of Passport

The Pascua Yaqui Tribe are expanding to other tribes an enhanced tribal card with electronic verification of identity that allow them to cross the border.

The Pascua Yaqui Tribe of Arizona are beginning to expand to other tribes an enhanced tribal card with electronic verification of identity they have developed to facilitate their members in crossing the United States/Mexico border.

The enhanced tribal card uses RFID technology (Radio Frequency Identification) to allow tribal members to be identified quickly and be given easy passage through land and sea ports of entry into the United States. (The tribe lives on both sides of the border, with about 20,000 tribal members in the United States and another 70,000 in Mexico.)

The enhanced tribal card is equivalent to a United States Passport, according to Marisella Nunez, Pascua Yaqui enrollment/ETC program director. It also can be used as ID in domestic airports.


The tribe has offered the service to three tribes, the Hydaburg tribe of Alaska, the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation in Washington, and the Puyallup tribe of Washington, and now wants to expand to even more.

Nunez said the tribe’s goal is to roll out the technology to five tribes a year, or more.

Impetus for the card came after the September 11, 2001 attacks and desire for enhanced border security by the federal Department of Homeland Safety. The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) went into effect in 2009 and required all entrants to the United States from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean or Bermuda through land or seaports to have a U.S. Passport or WHTI-compliant document.

The Pascua Yaqui enhanced tribal card was approved as a WHTI-compliant document in 2011.

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The tribe has issued about 4,000 cards to enrolled tribal members to date, according to Nunez. Members living off-reservation and even minors also are eligible to get the cards.

Nunez said the ETC in time should supersede the current tribal ID. “We want everyone to have the enhanced tribal card,” she said.

She said the card is a sovereignty-friendly device. Noting tribes often have been wary of working with the federal government, she said “The tribe’s been in full control of the program since day one.” And there is no sharing of a tribal member’s information with the federal government.

“We determine who qualifies for these cards,” not the federal government, she said.

The card is definitely a high-tech design. Its RFID can be detected in an MRZ (Machine Readable Zone) when it comes to within 20 feet of a port of entry. The tribe communicates with the DHS over the Internet through VPN technology. The tribe is also starting to employ biometrics with the card, with a fingerprint that can be read by a scanner.

Despite all the technology, it doesn’t take a long time to get. The whole process of issuing a card to a tribal member takes between 30 and 45 minutes, Nunez said.

The Pascua Yaqui offer a “turnkey” (complete) solution to other tribes. They can design the card, make sure it passes all the technical specifications, produce collateral materials, and do onsite training. A tribe can either develop its own program, or outsource the program to the Pascua Yaqui, as the Hydaburg tribe has done.

A tribal rollout can take as little as a few weeks to as much as five months, Nunez said.