North American Border Crossings to Require Passports
By Paul Richter
Times Staff Writer
6:57 PM PDT, April 5, 2005
WASHINGTON -- In a move intended to counter terrorism, Americans will have to show passports or other specialized documents to re-enter the country from Mexico and Canada beginning in 2008, U.S. officials said Tuesday.
Under the new restrictions, recommended by the Sept. 11 commission, Americans no longer will be allowed to show only a driver's license or a government-issued photo identification card, officials said. Similarly, Canadians, who have been able to enter the United States with a driver's license, will need a passport.
Some in the travel industry have opposed the changes, which would make it harder for travelers to take spur-of-the-moment trips. Critics have argued that it would bring an end to a long relationship between the United States and Canada that allowed casual cross-border travel as a part of daily life.
But U.S. officials point out that the Algerian man who was convicted of plotting to bomb Los Angeles International Airport on the eve of the millennium was admitted from Canada without a passport.
U.S. officials decided to tighten the borders to keep out "people who want to hurt us," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said.
Under the planned rules, Americans returning from Panama and Bermuda also would need to show passports or secure documents, officials said. Currently, Americans returning from Mexico, Panama or Bermuda need only show a government-issued ID card, plus proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate or a naturalization certificate.
In addition to passports, American travelers would be able to use the secure "border crossing card" also known as a "laser visa." Some Mexicans traveling frequently to the United States use the laser ID in place of a passport and visa.
Officials said they anticipate travelers will be able to obtain secure ID cards issued under several federal programs, such as those for Mexicans who travel frequently to the United States, other frequent travelers and shippers. The new rules will be phased in between now and 2008. The passport rule will be imposed on air and sea travel to and from the Caribbean, Bermuda and Central and South America starting Dec. 31, 2005. It will be extended to Canada and Mexico starting Dec. 31, 2006.
The changes are required under the intelligence-reform law approved by Congress and signed by President Bush last year. In implementing the law's requirements, State Department officials said there would be a 60-day period for public comment, to allow affected businesses and individuals to express their views. The rules could undergo changes based on the comments before they become final this fall.
"We recognize the implications this might have for industry, business and the general public, as well as our neighboring countries, and they are important partners in this initiative," said Maura Harty, assistant secretary of State for consular affairs.
Even with the new requirement, Canadians would be exempt from fingerprinting requirements that apply to other foreign visitors on entry to the United States, officials said.
Some Canadians have voiced criticism about U.S. border concerns. In reaction, one Canadian official said his country might begin requiring Americans to show their passports before crossing into Canada.
"We will review our requirements for American citizens, and we're going to do that in collaboration with the United States," Canadian Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan said outside the House of Commons in Ottawa.
Maryscott "Scotty" Greenwood, executive director of the Washington-based Canadian American Business Council, said that for traffic to continue to flow smoothly with the new rules, governments would have to provide sufficient resources at the border, and would have to make people in border communities fully aware of the new requirements.
"Implementation will be crucial," she said.