Border crossers get pass on 1st day of new passport

Border crossers get pass on 1st day of new passport


Border agents used Day One as an exercise in education, not detainment.

At the Dennis DeConcini Port of Entry in Nogales, for instance, people were waved through even if they did not have the proper ID. They were handed a flier that explained the new rules.

Edith Serrano, a public-affairs supervisor for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said agents will try to help people through as long as they have some form of legitimate identification, even if that ID is not up to the new standards.

“They are U.S. citizens. They can go and come back,” Serrano said. “It might delay them a little, but we are not going to deny a U.S. citizen from coming back from Mexico.”

The new rules require U.S. citizens to carry a passport, passport card, enhanced driver’s license or other government-approved document to return to the country.

Serrano could not say when agents would stop handing out the warning fliers and start holding people for citizenship verification.

The new protocol is part of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, a national-security plan established under the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004.

Five of Arizona’s six border crossings reported normal or lighter traffic Monday and no problems for Americans returning from Mexico.

Port directors at Naco, Lukeville, Nogales and San Luis said traffic was normal and drivers were in or near full compliance in showing passports, passport-ID cards or proof they’ve applied for them.

A spokesman at the Douglas Port of Entry said traffic was a bit light, and with extra lanes open, wait times were down. Douglas normally gets about 6,000 vehicles a day. Spokesman Carl Robinson said more than 90 percent of those Americans returning had the proper ID with them.

Similar rates of compliance were reported across the Mexican and Canadian borders.

Enactment of the law has occurred in stages, with numerous delays because of concerns the rules might interfere with tourism and commerce.

In 2007, passports were required for air travel back from Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.

Jason Sprinkle, business manager for Rocky Point Reservations, which arranges hotel, house and condo reservations, said the need for passports is just one more reason people will avoid going to Mexico.

He said tourism in Mexico is caught in a “quadruple whammy”: the recession, drug-cartel violence, swine-flu fears and now the need for passports for drivers.

“Really, people are too afraid to go,” Sprinkle said, “and with the economy, if they don’t have the money to go, they don’t have the money to get a passport.”

Sprinkle is a member of the Border Trade Alliance, a Phoenix-based group that promotes easier travel between the U.S. and its neighbors. The group has been lobbying for increased education about the new ID requirement.

At Los Algodones, southwest of Yuma, a popular destination for Americans and Canadians seeking dental or eye care, the number of visitors has declined.

“This passport requirement is another hurdle we have to go through,” said Ron Vinluan,owner of Dayo Dental, a Phoenix company that brokers trips to dental clinics in Los Algodones, Rocky Point and Nogales. “Many people are aware of it, but some will be surprised.”

In Nogales, Mexico, the paucity of American tourists was obvious.

Vendors stood in front of their shops, trying to pass the time without customers.

Alvaro Hernandez, 34, had not had a single customer by midday at El Abuelo Curios.

“Very bad, there are no tourists,” Hernandez said. “I think tourists (are not visiting) because of the (economic) crisis. And now they are asking for the passport, and a lot of people are not coming because they do not want to pay more for a passport.”

Karla Astorga, 22, of Nogales, Ariz., crosses the border nearly every workday to take her child to a nanny in Mexico before returning to Arizona and her job as a telemarketer.

She did not have the newly necessary identification, though she did have a receipt proving that she had applied for a passport card.

At $45 for first-time applicants, it’s a more affordable alternative to the traditional passport, which costs $100. The card does not work for air travel.

Astorga said the new regulations will help with her frequent crossings.

“I think it is going to be better because you’ll just be able to show the card and go through,” Astorga said. “Before, they asked you a lot of questions.”

Astorga was able to cross in about 15 minutes. Typically, she said, it takes her 30 minutes.


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