Communities on the Canadian border say that increasingly strict identification rules since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, are threatening the cozy neighborliness of their way of life. Their concerns led them to persuade Congress to postpone and water down the passport rules for land-crossings.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
It's the businesses right along the borders that have been especially wary of a passport requirement, and they have succeeded in delaying that requirement for people coming into the U.S. by car or boat. As long as Canadians don't need a passport to come across the border by land, American businesses want to make sure they know it.
Here's a bit of an ad running on a Toronto area radio station earlier this month.
(Soundbite of radio ad)
Unidentified Woman: Didn't get what you wanted for Christmas? Expose yourself to Fashion Outlets at Niagara Falls, USA, for an incredible boxing with shopping at great prices. Plus, at the fairvale exchange rate, your Canadian dollar has more buying power now than the last 10 years. No passport required for Canadians.
NORRIS: It will be at least another 11 months before passports are required at land crossings and ferry terminals.
NPR's Martin Kaste has been making the trip across the British Columbia/Washington state line.
MARTIN KASTE: The 49th Parallel has traditionally been one of the world's most low key borders, and that's still the case here at the checkpoint between British Columbia and Point Roberts, Washington.
Unidentified Man: Hello. Where are you headed now, sir?
KASTE: All it takes me to get across is a driver's license and a sense of humor.
Unidentified Man: First thing about the border, when you pull up, they want to know where you were born.
Unidentified Man: Where is that?
KASTE: I was born in Madison, Wisconsin.
Unidentified Man: Wisconsin, so a cheesehead.
KASTE: Hey, come on.
This informality may have something to do with the fact that Point Roberts is an accident of geography, a tiny spit of American territory sticking off the western coast of Canada. It's the kind of place where the gas stations display prices in liters -
(Soundbite of cash register)
KASTE: - and supermarket cash registers have separate drawers for American and Canadian dollars.
Supermarket manager Jay Lewis says most of his shoppers hail from the great white North.
Mr. JAY LEWIS: Because the gas here is cheaper, and many of the groceries are cheaper.
KASTE: Around here, the border is still little more than a speed bump for Canadians on their way to the store. But Lewis says that will change if the U.S. starts requiring passports.
Mr. LEWIS: Mostly because folks are not going to make that investment to buy a passport just to come over to do a little bit of shopping.
KASTE: And there's more at stake here than just a little cross-border grocery shopping. In places like upstate New York, there are whole shopping malls dedicated to the Canadian clientele. Some northern hospitals have also come to rely on patients from Canada.
So it's no surprise that business interests from Washington to Maine have lobbied Congress to delay the passport requirement at land crossings - much to the frustration of border security hawks, like Republican Senator Charles Grassley.
Senator CHARLES GRASSLEY (Republican, Iowa): I'll tell you. If there would be another terrorist attack in the United States even on a tenth of a scale that New York City was, you would have an outcry - why isn't Congress doing more about this? And the arguments for delay would immediately come to a halt.
KASTE: Grassley is especially worried by the fact that government investigators testing border security have repeatedly been able to get through the land crossings using bogus driver's licenses.
Senator GRASSLEY: They were able to cross with false documents or some sort of tall tale. They got waved into our country.
Mr. KEN OPLINGER (Business for Economic, Security, Tourism and Trade) Documentation is not the issue here.
KASTE: Ken Oplinger is co-chairman of Business for Economic Security, Tourism and Trade, a U.S./Canadian trade group. He says the new rule would have done nothing to stop the 9/11 hijackers. After all, they all had valid passports.
Mr. OPLINGER: It's going to give us the perception that we're more secure because we're now taking passports only. And it may in the long run do us more harm than good because we may then decide, well, we're taking passports. We're more secure now and we're less concerned about some of the other issues that we know will make us more secure here in the States.
KASTE: For instance, Oplinger says it would do more good to give border agents better access to databases with information about suspected terrorists. Nevertheless, the Bush administration does seem intent on implementing the passport rule. While Congress has pushed the deadline off until 2009, the Department of Homeland Security says it may start requiring passports at land crossings as soon as next January.
Outside the Point Roberts grocery store, visiting Canadian Leslie Wilcox says the rule won't stop her from coming to the U.S. She already has a passport, as do 40 percent of her countrymen. That's compared to only about 25 percent of Americans.
She says American businesses shouldn't worry so much.
Ms. LESLIE COX: Canadians are very rule-conscious, and we follow the rules. You just trundle off and go get the paper.
KASTE: In fact, Canadian passport offices are starting to see long lines of applicants. It seems Canadians have already accepted the fact that visiting the American cousins is more of an international voyage than it used to be.
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Travelers take out their passports before checking in at San Diego International Airport. As of January 2007, U.S. passengers traveling by air are required to show a passport when traveling to Mexico, Canada and the Caribbean. The requirement was waived until Sept. 30, for those who have applied for a passport.
Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images
In January, hopping on a flight to Toronto became more difficult.
According to new rules that went into effect in January, all flyers, including American citizens, are required to carry a valid passport or other "appropriate documents" when traveling into the United States from anywhere in the Western Hemisphere — including Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, the Caribbean and Central and South America. The requirement, however, does not apply to U.S. citizens returning from a U.S. territory — such as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
And for those who have applied for passports and have yet to receive them, the requirement has been waived until Sept. 30, 2007.
This plan, which took effect, in January, called the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), was announced in April 2005. The changes in passport rules were mandated in 2004, when Congress passed a massive piece of legislation called the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act. In addition to reforming intelligence agencies, the act was designed to increase border protection and beef up transportation security.
More specifically, the act stipulated that the Departments of Homeland Security and State revamp their travel document requirements.
Travel by land and sea hasn't changed. A plan set to take effect as early as January 2008 will require that the same rules apply to these forms of travel.
Before that next big adventure to Canada or Mexico, check out this list of documents you can currently use to cross the border:
ALL-PURPOSE TRAVEL DOCUMENTS
What It Is: The passport is still the golden ticket of world travel. U.S. citizens can use their passports when returning to the country by air from Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean and Bermuda. But not everyone has a passport. Only one-fourth of Americans have a passport.
How You Get It: To get a passport for the first time, you'll need a valid form of photo ID, such as a driver's license, proof of U.S. citizenship and two photographs of yourself. Take those to an approved acceptance facility — that includes post offices, some public libraries, federal, state and probate courts and some county and municipal buildings. If you are traveling within 14 days, you can visit one of 13 regional passport agencies, but you'll need an appointment. (Check out the State Department's site for more information.)
When to Use It: For travel from or to anywhere in the world, by air, land or sea.
I-551 FORM (GREEN CARD)
What It Is: Proof of legal residency in the United States for non-U.S. citizens.
How You Get It: See the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service's Web site for details.
When to Use It: Permanent U.S. residents can still use their green cards when returning to the United States by land, air or sea in the Western Hemisphere.
LIMITED-USE TRAVEL DOCUMENTS
What It Is: A card for travel between the U.S. and Canada only.
How You Get It: The card is already available, but only to citizens or permanent residents of Canada or the United States. You can apply for the NEXUS card by submitting an application and going through a registration process. If you satisfy the eligibility criteria and pass the risk assessments of both countries, you'll be issued a card.
When to Use It: You can use the NEXUS card for air travel in conjunction with the NEXUS air program at participating airports. Just insert the card at self-serving kiosks. You'll most likely also be able to use the card for land and sea travel between Canada and the United States, once those rules kick in.
What It Is: License to drive issued by your state of residency or the District of Columbia.
How You Get It: Check with your local department of motor vehicles.
When to Use It: U.S. citizens crossing the Mexican and Canadian border by land do not technically need any documentation to enter the United States. All they have to do is assert their U.S. citizenship. But if a border agent questions you, be prepared to show a driver's license. A birth certificate or voter registration card will also work as valid ID.
U.S. Military Identification: Soldiers on active duty who are traveling by land, air or sea on orders are exempt from passport requirements and can use their valid military identification instead.
Merchant Mariner Document (MMD): U.S. citizen merchant mariners can apply for this document with the U.S. Coast Guard. It allows them to return to the United States by air, land or sea from anywhere in the Western Hemisphere when on official business.
PROPOSED TRAVEL DOCUMENT
PASS CARD: This card is still just a concept under review by U.S. officials. If it does get developed, it would function as a cheaper alternative for U.S. citizens who do not wish to use a passport for travel only by land and sea between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda.