Friday, February 1, 2008

New Border Rules

Beginning Thursday,January 30,2008 U.S. and Canadian citizens who want to enter the United States from Canada must provide border agents with two documents: proof of citizenship such as a birth certificate and a government-issued photo identification such as a driver's license.

The rules apply to people who are 19 and older and who do not have passports.

Until this week, U.S. and Canadian citizens have been able to enter the U.S. without any proof of citizenship. Saying they were Canadian or a U.S. citizen was sufficient.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel could ask additional questions if they doubted those claims, but documents were not required.

But the new rules, which are meant to strengthen security in the United States, are causing anxiety for Americans who depend on tourism for a living.

They said they are worried that new travel security rules will keep away Canadian visitors, such as those who regularly flock to ski resorts across the border.

On Thursday, people were whizzing through at customs as border protection agents provided some leeway until Canadians and U.S. travelers get used to the new rules. Watch Canadian tourists talk about the new rules »

But people in the tourist industry remember last summer, when minor changes in document procedures at the border created hourslong backups and delays.

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About 50 percent of the skiers and snowboarders who visit Vermont's Jay Peak come from north of the border. The resort makes sure Canadians feel wanted. The sign at the entrance says "Bienvenue," French for welcome. The Canadian and U.S. flags fly alongside each other over the lodge. The snack bar and ski shop accept Canadian currency.

It is a stopgap security measure. Congress has pushed back implementation of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which will require that travelers carry passports or other approved travel documents, until at least summer 2009.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said in an interview that he thought the previous requirement of only an oral statement would be news to many U.S. citizens.

"I think this would frankly shock a lot of people. It certainly surprised me when I learned about it,"

The new document requirements will help secure the border at a time when the public is demanding tighter measures.

"It strikes me as a little anomalous to say we're going to build a fence between the ports of entry, but you can just walk right through the port of entry by saying, 'Hi, I'm an American citizen,' without being checked."

The new requirements have brought cries of protest from the travel industry, northern border states, their chambers of commerce and representatives in Congress.

"It's a terrible idea. It's a job killer, plain and simple,"..... "putting the bureaucracy ahead of the needs of the people."

Tens of thousands of Americans and Canadians cross the border every day to jobs and families on the other side. Some communities, such as Derby Line, Vermont, even straddle the border.

Despite publicity about the new document rules, many people living near the border may not have gotten the message.

"I think there is a degree of confusion," ...... "It's not just that they don't have documents; people don't know which documents are required."

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has indicated it will not enforce the new rules strictly at first, but such assurances haven't allayed concerns about possible backups and delays at border crossings.

"Have your passports. Bring your IDs. Have them ready at the border. Make it as efficient as possible. That way, hopefully, we can minimize the impact." the real test will come in about three weeks, when Canadian students get their winter break and head for U.S. ski slopes.

The Canadian government estimates that 7 million jobs in the United States are directly or indirectly tied to U.S.-Canadian trade.

"Every day $1.5 billion worth of trade goes across the Canadian border. Forty million Canadians visit the U.S. every year, and 16 million stay overnight," ..... "It's really going to have an effect."

A coalition of U.S. senators from 19 border states wrote to Chertoff this week asking him to delay implementation of the new requirements, but the secretary said it was time to end the "honor system" for crossing the border.

"I still have ringing in my ears the words of the 9/11 commission, which talks about the importance of dealing with this," ... "I frankly thought the heat I would get is, 'Why did it take so long?' and why were we still not at the end state."

But critics said asking for birth certificates is not going to improve security. There are thousands of different kinds, and they can be counterfeited or stolen, they point out.