U.S. sticks with rule on passport travel from Canada, Mexico

Americans will need one to return across border, administration announces


WASHINGTON - The Bush administration announced yesterday that it is sticking with the plan to require Americans to show their passports when entering the United States from neighboring Canada and Mexico.

Officials announced the requirement following a five-month review ordered by President Bush after he said he had learned about the plan from a newspaper article.

The passport requirement is designed to protect against terrorist infiltrators.

Under the new rule:

American citizens entering the country from Canada, Mexico, Caribbean nations, Bermuda, Central America and South America via air or sea must present a U.S. passport starting Dec. 31, 2006.

American citizens entering the country from Canada and Mexico at land crossings must present a U.S. passport starting Dec. 31, 2007.

Currently, American citizens need only satisfy Customs and Border Protection officers of their U.S. citizenship by presenting driver's licenses, birth certificates or other documents. The departments of Homeland Security and State explicitly ruled out the use of those documents when the passport rule goes into effect.

An estimated 170 million U.S. citizens are processed at U.S. ports of entry each year.

A first-time U.S. passport for Americans 16 or older costs $97, in addition to the costs of two passport photographs and an original copy of a birth certificate or other documentation proving U.S. citizenship.

About 62 million people now hold U.S. passports. The new requirement is expected to boost demand for U.S. passports about 17 million a year by 2008.

The Bush administration's review of the proposal prompted a slight revision in the timetable by dropping the initial plan to start phasing in the change at the end of this year by requiring Americans to present passports when they returned from Caribbean nations, Bermuda, Central America and South America.

Meeting that deadline "would be problematic for travelers," the departments said in a statement. "This new timeline will simplify the implementation and provide a longer lead-time for travelers to come into compliance with the requirements."

Visitors from Canada and Mexico, as well as other nations in the Western Hemisphere, also will be required to present their passports to gain entry to the United States.

The Bush administration's announcement came over the objections of some members of the New York congressional delegation. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, a New York Democrat, had warned that ending passport-free crossings by Canadian and U.S. citizens posed a "potentially serious impact" for New York's border economy that relies on nearly 4 million Canadian visitors crossing into New York each year to spend almost $400 million.

Canadian Ambassador Frank McKenna also had lobbied U.S. officials to allow Americans and Canadians to continue crisscrossing the U.S.-Canada border without passports, saying requiring passports would be "a very damaging change."

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