Passport regulations take effect next week

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(Host) Beginning a week from today, anyone trying to enter the United States from Canada will have to present identification.

But, as VPR’s Ross Sneyd reports, federal officials say no one will be turned away if they don’t have the proper ID.

(Sneyd) The Bush administration has pushed to beef up security along the US-Canada border for years now.

And, for just as long, members of Congress from northern states have resisted major changes. But changes are coming.

Ted Woo of the CBP – or Customs and Border Patrol – explains.

(Woo) “Beginning January 31st, no longer will an oral declaration be sufficient. They will have to show two forms of identification. But people will not be turned away once a CBP officer ascertains whether they would be admitted into the United States or not.”

(Sneyd) People with a passport should be able to roll quickly through border stations. Anyone without a passport will have to show a photo ID, such as a driver’s license, and proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate.

There are many critics of the new policy, who say the rules will do little to make the border more secure.

They say the regulations are much more likely to simply cause backups at the border.

And Tim Shea of the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce says that will mean fewer Canadians will choose to visit Vermont.

(Shea) “Because they come here for outdoor recreation, retail experiences, cultural events, those exist in Canada, as well. Many of the same reasons we all choose to visit Montreal, other parts of Canada. But because they come down here by choice, the inconvenience factor weighs a lot in someone’s decision where they want to spend their leisure time.”

(Sneyd) Critics don’t believe the new rules will make the border any more secure than it already is. They point out that there are thousands of different types of birth certificates, so border agents won’t necessarily be able to trust them.

Woo says his agency is simply doing its job.

(Woo) “One of our key things that we are focused on is preventing terrorists from entering the country while at the same time facilitating legitimate trade and travel. So it’s a balancing act that we have to perform not just on a daily basis, but every time someone presents themselves, whether it’s at an airport, seaport or land port of entry.”

(Sneyd) Senator Patrick Leahy and several of his colleagues from northern states are still trying to persuade the Bush administration to back off the new rules.

But, for now, they go into effect next Thursday.

For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd.


AP Photo/Toby Talbot

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