New border crossing ID regulations to start
Business leaders are predicting a loss of tourism dollars and increased waits at border crossings with Mexico and Canada after a new federal law requiring U.S. travelers to provide proof of citizenship to reenter the United States takes effect Thursday.
The new law, adopted in 2004 on the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission, requires returning U.S. citizens 19 years or older to present a valid passport or other proof of citizenship, plus a government-issued photo ID. Those under the age of 18 are exempt from the change and can continue to be waved through after declaring their citizenship.
Business groups on both side of the U.S./Mexico border are concerned that the regulation is a dramatic shift in the way people cross the border and the U.S. government has not sufficiently promoted the new system.
'One of our main concerns is the lack of public awareness,” Diana Lauritson, policy and project coordinator for the Phoenix-based pro-trade Border Trade Alliance told the North County Times.
Groups such as BTA are advocating for the verbal declaration process to continue until proof of citizenship documents such as new passports and ID cards are in wider public use.
U.S. border officials said a new passport card, that provides proof of citizenship and cost less than a regular passport, would be available starting Friday. The card, however, can only be used for entry via land and sea ports-of-entry, not at airports.
The Southern California border crossings of San Ysidro, Otay Mesa and Tecate see an average of 136,000 vehicles a day crossing into the United States, most being workers commuting to and from their jobs on the other side of the border. Current waits can stretch into hours for vehicles and somewhat shorter for pedestrians.
A similar change in airport identification regulations last year led to massive backlogs in passport applications, a scenario some believe will repeat itself after Thursday's land and sea requirements kick in. According to the Bureau of Consular Affairs, which processes passport applications, staffing has been increased to meet the potential demand. However wait time for a full passport are still four to six weeks.
A portion of the new regulation requiring non-air travelers between the United States, Mexico and/or Canada to have a full valid passport was postponed by Congress last summer. The new deadline is June 2009.
Businesses on both side of the border that depend on tourism have said the constantly shifting deadlines are confusing to travelers.
'We try very hard to keep people updated, but ' it’s been very hard to know what to tell people,” Ron Raposa, a spokesman for the Southern California beach city of Rosarito Beach told the North County Times. 'There’s already long lines, and we’re concerned about anything that would make them longer.'
More details on current cross-border travel requirements can be found at the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Web site atwww.cbp.gov.