A new rule has been passed that requires Americans to present a passport when traveling back into the United States from Mexico, Canada and the Caribbean.
Until now, a driver’s license or birth certificate has been accepted from travelers making their way through customs on their trip home.
The new rule aims to strengthen border security and keep terrorists from entering the country. Congress adopted the new regulations in 2004.
Several exceptions have been made when it comes to this rule. The first is the NEXUS Air card, which is used by some American and Canadian frequent fliers. Also accepted is identification as a U.S. Coast Guard merchant mariner, active member of the U.S. military or the green card carried by legal permanent residents.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, airplane and cruise passengers who do not have passports will have to go through a secondary screening to verify their citizenship. Travelers should be prepared for possible delays. Customs agents, who will make the decision to let them re-enter the country, will interview those who cannot produce a passport.
The State Department issued 12.1 million passports in 2006 and it expects to issue 16 million more this year in order to meet the increased demand. The government has hired new employees to help handle the increased demand for passports.
Tom Thomas is the owner of Thomas Travel Service, a travel agency located in Doylestown, Pa. Thomas has not experienced many problems with the new rule.
“The government has done quite a good job publicizing this and I don’t think it has kept any of our customers from traveling. A few hotels have actually offered to pay for people’s passports but I am not aware of anyone taking advantage of this,” Thomas said.
On the other hand, Thomas doesn’t feel that the new rule will achieve its goal of keeping terrorists out of the country.
“I don’t think this will keep any serious terrorists out of the country. If they want in, they will find a way. This is typical Bush administration baloney.”
For now, the new rule only affects air travelers. Land and sea travelers do not have to show their passports until at least January 2008. As a majority, travelers have been cooperative with the new rule.
Jessica Gruber, a freshman English secondary education major, thinks the new rule is worth the wait. “I’d rather be delayed than have terrorists cross the border,” Gruber said.
“We’re not seeing a panic from travelers because we’ve been pretty diligent in telling them for over a year that they need a passport. It’s written on any piece of paper we have going out,” AAA spokesperson Teresa Hildebrand said.
There is no age limit when it comes to passports and the fee to acquire one is $97 for adults and $82 for children under 16. The application process takes about six weeks and there are ways to expedite the process at an extra cost.