Passport rule delayed

Appropriations bill snag gives laggers a year

By Brady McCombs

Arizona Daily Star

Fear not, Rocky Point beachgoers or Nogales pharmacy patrons. You’ll have plenty of time to get that passport you don’t have yet.

The U.S. government officially announced this week that U.S. and Canadian citizens coming back into the country through a land port won’t need a passport until June 1, 2009 — a year later than officials planned and 2 2/3 years after the requirement went into effect for air travelers.

The Department of Homeland Security says it was on schedule to implement the rule as early as this summer but was prevented from doing so until June 2009 by language in the fiscal year 2008 appropriations bill passed by Congress, said spokeswoman Amy Kudwa.

People traveling to Mexico by airplane have been required to carry a passport or one of a handful of other approved secure documents since January 2007.

Currently, U.S. and Canadians citizens coming back from Mexico via land or sea need to present either a passport or a combination of a government-approved photo ID and proof of citizenship. Oral declarations of citizenship have not been accepted since Jan. 31.

The delay will allow travelers more time to obtain the necessary documents and lessen the impact on ports of entry, said Department of Homeland Security officials in announcing the final rule for the land and sea portion of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, one of the 9/11 Commission recommendations.

Homeland Security officials will roll out an extensive outreach campaign to make people aware of the upcoming rule change, Kudwa said. Locally, Customs and Border Protection officials will continue meeting with travel and trade associations, educational institutions, airlines, border communities, mayors and other elected officials on both sides of the border to advise them of the new rules, said Brian Levin, Customs and Border Protection spokesman.

In Arizona, the word seems to be spreading: Nearly 90 percent of U.S. citizens crossing through Arizona ports have the documents needed, Levin said.

Those who don’t have the necessary documents but can verify their citizenship are allowed through and given a flier with information on the requirements so it doesn’t happen again, Levin said.

Contact reporter Brady McCombs at 573-4213 or bmccombs@azstarnet.com

Posted by http://www.azstarnet.com

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