U.S. Postpones New Passport Deadline
WASHINGTON - Canadians driving to the United States and Americans who are returning won't need passports at least until next summer, the Bush administration said last week, even as it warned of the grave danger of terrorist infiltration across the land border.
"The message I'm sending today is we are not acting precipitously," Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said. "We're not going to drop the axe on Jan. 1, 2008."
Instead, a short reprieve lasting through next summer will allow Canadians and returning Americans to cross at land border points with a government-issued identification document, such as a driver's license with a photograph, plus a birth certificate or other proof of citizenship.
But terrorists lurking in Canada and the stark reality that the long Canada-U.S. border remains the easiest way to infiltrate the United States require a new era of much tougher controls, Mr. Chertoff said.
"Merely saying, 'Hi, I'm an American citizen, let me in,' is not going to work any more," Mr. Chertoff said.
The latest change in the rules added confusion to an already-bewildering array of dates. It sparked an uproar on Capitol Hill where a separate, 17-month, delay is working its way into law.
Air travelers already need passports, although that rule has been waived, too, for Americans who can show a receipt proving they have applied for a passport and it is caught in a multi-month backlog.
Two other rule changes proposed yesterday may provide long-lasting relief. Children, both Canadians and Americans, under 15 will be allowed to travel without passports even after the requirement is imposed for adults, as long as they have birth certificates and are traveling with their parents. And teenagers "if they're traveling with school or religious groups, social organizations or sports teams, will be able to enter under adult supervision with birth certificates," Mr. Chertoff said.
Tourism and business groups on both sides of the border were unimpressed.
Len Crispino, president and CEO of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, said, "confusion reigns supreme. Every week there is a new announcement."
"Just tell us the date," he added.
The reaction was similar in the United States. "We've already seen the confusion created over the passport requirements for persons travelling by air, and this two-tiered approach for land and sea will only make things more confusing for travellers," said Frater Roger Dow (Iota-Rho, Seton Hall Univ.), president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Industry Association.
U.S. Ambassador to Canada Davis Wilkins and Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day were asked about passports at the Ottawa airport yesterday where they were announcing an expansion of the Nexus program - biometric cards that allow frequent, low-risk passengers to quickly clear border security. Mr. Wilkins described the postponement of the requirement for passports at land crossings as a clarification, rather than a change.
The law specified that the passport requirement was to take effect some time between January, 2008, and June, 2009, he said.
Mr. Day said the delay should not deter Canadians from obtaining passports.
U.S. border requirements
Before January, 2007: Canadians and Americans could cross the border by air or land without passports, and often, at land crossings, without showing any identification at all.
January, 2007: The United States imposed new rules requiring Americans and Canadians alike to have a passport to enter the country by air. Americans who can show a receipt proving they have applied for a passport may also enter.
January, 2008: The passport rule on land and sea crossings was to have been enforced in January, but has been delayed until at least midsummer. So, beginning in January, adult Canadians and Americans crossing into the United States by land will need, instead of a passport, a government-issued photo ID, such as a driver's licence, plus a birth certificate or other proof of citizenship.
Children under 15 years of age, both Canadian and American, will be allowed to travel without passports even after the requirement is imposed for adults as long as they have birth certificates and are travelling with their parents. Teenagers under 18 travelling in school, cultural and sports groups will need birth certificates.
Frater Roger Dow is a regular contributor to the TKE Educational Foundation, was on the Board of Directors in 1989 and was Teke Alumnus of the Year in 1990. He is the former Senior Vice President of Marriott International.
Adapted from CTV Globe Media News Story. If you would like to see your chapter news here, contact Communications Coordinator Tom McAninch.