U.S. Border Guards Set to Demand Passports

  • Playlist
  • Download
  • Embed
    Embed <iframe src="http://www.npr.org/player/embed/18567839/18567807" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no">
  • Transcript

The Department of Homeland Security will begin asking people crossing into the U.S. by land for passports or other proof of citizenship. Critics predict confusion and many border-area businesses oppose the idea.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

We begin our program with a look at some policies being debated on Capitol Hill, starting with a new policy on the nation's borders. Starting today, Americans crossing the border from Canada or Mexico will no longer be allowed to simply declare themselves U.S. citizens.

The Homeland Security Department says it wants to see a passport or other proof of citizenship. But it also says it will be flexible until people get used to the new rules. Critics are predicting confusion and delays at the border.

NPR's Pam Fessler reports.

PAM FESSLER: People might be surprised to learn that until now, Americans have been able to cross the border if a Customs officer believe them when they simply declare that they're an American. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff says he was certainly surprised.

Secretary MICHAEL CHERTOFF (U.S. Department of Homeland Security): This is at the same time that the public is demanding that we secure the border, that we build fencing between the ports of entry. 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.

FESSLER: So beginning today, that, at least technically, is no longer the case. Those crossing by lands from Canada and Mexico are supposed to show either a passport or a government-issued photo I.D. with some proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate.

But the change faces intense opposition from border state lawmakers and businesses, and Homeland Security has been softening its stance. Officials say no one will be stopped just because they don't have the right documents. They'll be given a warning and could face delays as Customs officers try to verify their identity.

Here is Jayson Ahern, deputy commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, earlier this week in San Diego.

Mr. JAYSON AHERN (Deputy Commissioner, U.S. Customs and Border Protection): This is not going to be come January 31 that we're going to end U.S. citizen's ability to return back to their homeland. We can't do that. We don't have the authority to do that, but we have to make sure as far as individuals satisfy the officers' determination that you are a citizen of this country and they are who they say they are.

FESSLER: Homeland security officials say they're trying to prepare people for the summer of 2009 when everyone will be required to show a passport.

But Roger Dow, head of the Travel Industry Association, thinks this interim step is just confusing, and that requiring a birth certificate will do more harm than good.

Mr. ROGER DOW (President and Chief Executive Officer, Travel Industry Association): My daughter on her Mac could create a document that's much more official-looking than the birth certificates we have in the United States from hundreds of thousands of hospitals over the years. So there's no way to even tell if a birth certificate is a good document. They are not secure documents.

FESSLER: His biggest fear is that the change will only discourage cross-border travel and trade.

Pam Fessler, NPR News.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.

Q&A: What New Rules Mean for Border Crossing

Border i

Beginning Thursday, travelers who enter the U.S. by land or sea from Canada or Mexico must show proof of identity and citizenship at border checkpoints like this one in order to gain entry. Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images
Border

Beginning Thursday, travelers who enter the U.S. by land or sea from Canada or Mexico must show proof of identity and citizenship at border checkpoints like this one in order to gain entry.

Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images

Beginning Thursday, travelers entering the U.S. by land or sea from Canada or Mexico must show proof of identity and citizenship in order to gain entry. Up until now, Americans could basically declare themselves U.S. citizens and cross the border. It was up to the customs officer to decide whether more documents were needed.

What kinds of documents will border agents want to see now? And will agents send you home if you don't have them? Read the basics of the new rules:

What documents should I have with me?

Travelers age 19 and older must provide a passport or government-issued photo ID along with proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate.

Many documents prove both identity and citizenship. According to the Department of Homeland Security Web site, they are:

  • U.S. or Canadian passport
  • U.S. passport card
  • Trusted traveler cards such as Nexus, Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection (SENTRI) and Free and Secure Trade (FAST)
  • State- or provincial-issued enhanced driver's license
  • Enhanced tribal cards
  • U.S. military ID with military travel orders
  • U.S. Merchant Mariner Document
  • Native American tribal photo identification card
  • Form I-872 American Indian card
  • Indian and Northern Affairs Canada card

However, if you don't have one of these documents, you can show border agents a photo ID such as a driver's license or government-issued or military ID card and citizenship documents such as a birth certificate, certificate of citizenship or naturalization.

Children age 18 and under are required to present only proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate.

People who are entering the U.S. legally but are not citizens will be required to show their permanent resident card or other evidence of legal status.

What happens if I have the wrong documents?

No one will be prevented entry just for lack of the right documents – at least for a while.

Those who do not have proof of citizenship are likely to receive a warning. Leaving your proof at home, however, could mean waiting longer at the border as DHS verifies your citizenship.

DHS will be flexible during what is a sort of warm-up for the summer of 2009, when everyone will be required to show a passport, passport card or certain secure driver's licenses to cross the border.

Why the change?

The 9/11 Commission's report suggested more secure documentation for U.S. entry to improve security. Officials say that thousands of people cross the border each year using phony IDs.

Critics say you can expect to wait longer to cross the border. But the initial reports indicate that the change has not led to any unusual backups. That could change in the coming months, however, as customs officers become more stringent about the new requirements.

What does it mean for lines at the border?

Critics say you can expect to wait longer to cross the border. But the initial reports indicate that the change has not led to any unusual backups. However, that could change in the coming months, as customs officers become more stringent about the new requirements.

What is an enhanced driver's license and a passport card?

The government has been developing new forms of ID that would streamline border stops, especially for residents of border states and towns.

Some states have promised to issue new licenses that include a radio-frequency identification (RFID) chip. The cards are quickly scanned at the border, and the guard can look at a secure database that pulls up biographic information about the person, including a photo and the results of terrorist/criminal checks.

Washington State is the first state to begin offering drivers the enhanced licenses. Several border states – including Arizona, California, Michigan, Texas, Vermont and New York — are working with the government to also offer them.

U.S. passports issued since 2006 contain RFID chips.

The new U.S. passport card – which the State Department will begin issuing this spring – will be wallet-sized and embedded with an RFID chip that, like an enhanced driver's license, will link to a U.S. government database containing biographical data and a photograph. Unlike the familiar passport book, however, the card may not be used to travel by air.

The government is touting passport cards as a less expensive and more portable alternative to the traditional passport book. The cards are valid for the same length of time as the books — 10 years for an adult, five for children 15 and younger. Adults who already have a passport book can apply for the card as a passport renewal and pay $20. Adults who are first-time passport applicants will pay $45, children will pay $35 — less than half of what a traditional passport costs.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.