Feds trying to get word out about passport regulations

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(Host) Federal officials are trying to get the word out about changes that are coming next week for people who want to cross the border.

Homeland Security Department officials say starting next Thursday, passports – or at least a driver’s license and a birth certificate – will be needed to enter the United States.

VPR’s Ross Sneyd was on the border and has our report.

(Sounds of helicopter)

(Sneyd) A Customs and Border Protection helicopter swooped in and landed at the Highgate Springs border station.

Robert Jacksta, a deputy assistant commissioner of the agency, hopskotched the northern border by helicopter to announce the changes about crossing the border from Canada.

(Jacksta) “You will be asked to present documents from one of several options when entering the U.S. at either a land or a sea port of entry.”

(Sneyd) At border crossings from Bellingham, Washington, to Highgate Springs, Vermont, that’s going to be a big change.

Now, people can tell a border agent that they’re a US or Canadian citizen and get waved across – unless they give the officer a reason to doubt what they say.

Come next Thursday, that won’t be good enough. A passport – or some other document that proves both who you are and what your nationality is – will be needed. Anybody who doesn’t have a passport or its equivalent will have to present a driver’s license and a birth certificate.

Jacksta says border agents will let people into the United States if they don’t have proper ID — for now.

(Jacksta) “We recognize that this is a big challenge. We recognize that this is a cultural change. Over the last 200 years people have come across the border and would just be able to state that they’re a US citizen or a Canadian. We believe that the time has changed.”

(Sneyd) It’s a cultural change that’s not sitting too well with some who depend on business between Canada and the US.

(Searles) “This is our livelihood.”

(Sneyd) Brian Searles is director of the Burlington International Airport, which relies on Canadian travelers for a third of its business.

He says even a slightly longer delay at the border may persuade many travelers from Quebec’s Eastern Townships to fly out of Montreal’s Trudeau Airport instead of Burlington.

Ron Redmond says the change couldn’t come at a worst time for retailers along Burlington’s Church Street pedestrian mall. The stronger Canadian dollar is driving shoppers to Vermont. He says the Bush administration doesn’t appreciate how vital border traffic is to the region.

(Redmond) “One of the things that surprises me is that often we think that there are two different countries here. But what I think the administration is forgetting is that there’s really one region. And we have so many ties with Quebec in terms of our history, our culture and these economic links.”

(Sneyd) Jaksta says the border agency understands the cultural and economic ties. But he says security is just as important. Border guards will let people enter the United States next week without the required IDs. But he says the grace period won’t last long.

For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd.


AP Photo/Toby Talbot

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