Border Officials Try New ID System Thousands of motorists had to present proof of citizenship Thursday for land-based border crossings. Federal authorities gave plenty of notice about the new law requiring identification, but were prepared for lots of confusion. It went surprisingly smoothly, we find.
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Border Officials Try New ID System

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Border Officials Try New ID System

Border Officials Try New ID System

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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This is DAY TO DAY, I'm Alex Chadwick. Travelers got through the first day of new border rules with little disruption. That may be because U.S. Customs agents issued warnings instead of actually stopping people who did not have proof of citizenship, now required. Or maybe the border wait is already so long, any extra delays yesterday would've been hard to notice. NPR's Ted Robbins has this view from the nation's busiest border crossing, near San Diego.

TED ROBBINS: The wait to cross from Tijuana, Mexico to San Isidro, California is seldom less than 30 minutes. It's often much longer, as it was yesterday when I walked alongside Monica Hasty's(ph) car as she inched forward in line.

Ms. MONICA HASTY: Actually, I would say about an hour, hour and a half for us. Yeah, about an hour, huh, Daddy?

Unidentified Man (Father): Yeah.

Ms. HASTY: Yeah.

ROBBINS: She lives in Tijuana and was driving her father to a doctor's appointment in San Diego. She had her U.S. passport ready; he had a military veteran's ID.

Unidentified Man: I'm a disabled veteran and I showed that to them, but they won't accept it.

Unidentified Woman: No, you can do that, honey. It has to be like a license.

ROBBINS: Actually, his drivers license alone won't cut it. U.S. citizens must now have a passport or another government picture ID showing citizenship such as a military or tribal ID.

Ms. PATRICIA WAMEN(ph) (Customs Agent): How are you doing?

ROBBINS: Customs agents like Patricia Wamen will also accept a birth certificate along with a second picture ID like a drivers license. She says so far so good.

Ms. WAMEN: Until now everybody's got a U.S. passport or a birth certificate (unintelligible).

ROBBINS: Mexican citizens already had to show a visa or passport. Canadians didn't, until now.

Mr. MIKE BOLL(ph) (Customs Agent): Where do you live, sir?

ROBBINS: At the Blaine, Washington crossing with Canada, customs agent Mike Boll says Canadian citizens have had plenty of time to get ready.

Mr. BOLL: We've been talking about it now since 9/11. You know, we've been talking about the changes are coming, the changes are coming.

ROBBINS: The acceptable number of documents went from about 8,000 down to about two dozen. But Ken Oplinger of the Whatcom County, Washington Chamber of Commerce says documents are not the problem. He points out that the only terrorist caught on the border was Ahmed Ressam back in 1999. Ressam was on a ferry boat between Canada and the U.S. on his way to bomb the Los Angeles airport.

Mr. KEN OPLINGER (Whatcom County Chamber of Commerce): He was not caught because of documentation; he was caught because he looked a little odd. He was a little fidgety, and the well-trained American border guard sent him to secondary and they found all the explosives in his car. So we seem to be sort of putting up barriers to prevent something that isn't an issue.

ROBBINS: Likewise, critics say some documents can be forged. Gerdet Dillon(ph) heads customs operations for the California border. He says the new requirements will help agents identify threats.

Mr. GERDET DILLON (Customs Agent): And people will be compliant, they'll understand the process, and so will we. It's an educational process for us.

ROBBINS: Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has said that he was surprised a few years ago when he learned that it was good enough to simply say I am a U.S. citizen to get back inside the country. Well, the days of the honor system are now over.

Ted Robbins, NPR News at the San Isidro port of entry.

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