The latest from Samantha Gross of the Associated Press:
NEW YORK (AP) — The U.S. government on Wednesday agreed to let a Native American lacrosse team travel to England for a tournament under Iroquois Confederacy passports, but their travel plans were still on hold because they lacked visas from Britain and because some players needed clearance from Canada.
The 23-member Iroquois team was unlikely to make a Wednesday afternoon flight from Kennedy Airport or Thursday’s first game of the Lacrosse World Championships in Manchester, England, said Oren Lyons, the team chairman and a chief of the Onondaga Nation. Nine team members are Canadian-born and still need Canadian waivers, and talks continued with British officials over visa requirements, team officials said.
“This has not been the best preparation for a world tournament,” Lyons said.
The team’s bus pulled up to an international terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport Wednesday afternoon, then pulled away shortly afterward; the team never got off.
The players regard U.S. government-issued documents as an attack on their identity, but U.S. officials have said their Iroquois documents did not meet new, stricter passport standards.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton determined that the team members born within U.S. borders did not need U.S. passports to make the trip and granted the players a “one-time-only waiver” to travel on their Iroquois passports, said State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley.
Asked why the department had dropped its opposition, he said, “There was flexibility there to grant this kind of one-time waiver given the unique circumstances of this particular trip.”
The British government said previously it would give the players visas only if they could guarantee they would be allowed to go home. A British Consulate spokeswoman couldn’t immediately say whether the visas were forthcoming.
A message left at the Canadian Consulate on Wednesday wasn’t immediately returned.
The Iroquois Confederacy oversees land that stretches from upstate New York into Ontario, Canada.
The Iroquois, known to members as the Haudenosaunee, helped invent lacrosse, perhaps as early as 1,000 years ago. Their participation in the once-every-four-year world championship tournament is a rare example of international recognition of their sovereignty.
Crowley stressed Wednesday that the waiver was a one-time event and that the team would need U.S. passports for future overseas travel.
For U.S. authorities, the issue is a matter of border security rather than Iroquois sovereignty.
“For other countries, including the United States, that is not a travel document that is on par with a U.S. passport,” Crowley said of the Iroquois documents. He noted that the Iroquois have had similar problems with their passports in foreign countries before.
“The best way to open doors around the world is to obtain a U.S. passport,” he said.
The U.S. and other nations have a history of recognizing Iroquois Confederacy passports, but the documents lack new security features now required for border crossings because of post-Sept. 11 crackdowns on document fraud and illegal immigration.
New U.S. passports, for example, contain embedded radio-frequency identification chips, similar to the ones inside highway toll transponders. The Iroquois documents are plain paper, with some information written in by hand.
At least four tribes, including the Kootenai, of Idaho; the Pasqua Yaqui, of Arizona; the Tohono O’odham Nation, of Arizona and Mexico; and the Seneca, of New York, have been working with federal officials to develop ID cards that meet new security guidelines, but would be good only for arrivals in the U.S. by land or sea, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
Tonya Gonnella Frichner, a member of the Onondaga Nation who works with the team, said the Iroquois have almost completed a transition to higher security passports. The process has cost the six-nation confederacy more than $1.5 million, she said.
Native Americans are not the only ones that have been asked to beef up travel document security features in recent years.
Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the U.S. has also tightened up identification rules for foreign travelers from close U.S. allies like France, Germany and the United Kingdom. A growing number of visitors from those countries who wish to travel to the U.S. without a visa must now present passports containing digital photographs and embedded electronic information.
The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative also began requiring most U.S. citizens to present their passports when re-entering the country from Canada or Mexico. Previously, travelers needed only to show a driver’s license and orally declare their citizenship.
Associated Press writer Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.
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