Passports now required to enter U.S. from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda
All citizens of the United States, Canada, Mexico and Bermuda will be required to present a passport to enter America when arriving by air from any part of the Western Hemisphere beginning Jan. 23, the Homeland Security and State departments announced Nov. 22.
“The ability to misuse travel documents to enter this country opens the door for a terrorist to carry out an attack,” Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said. “We cannot continue to allow loopholes that could facilitate access to the United States through false claims of citizenship or fake identities.”
The passport requirement, part of the departments’ Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), came about as a result of recommendations made by the September 11 commission. The requirement was passed into law as part of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004.
The WHTI requires all citizens of the United States, Canada, Mexico and Bermuda to have a passport or other accepted document that establishes the bearer’s identity and nationality to enter or reenter the United States from within the Western Hemisphere.
Janice Kephart, former counsel to the September 11 commission and a nationally recognized border-security expert, told a House Judiciary subcommittee this year that WHTI closed loopholes that terrorists could use to enter the United States.
“An extremely large loophole that still exists today here in the U.S., and which WHTI seeks to close, is the policy and practices that permit anyone claiming to be from the Western Hemisphere to present easily forged documents, or nothing at all, to enter the U.S.,” she said.
Although no travel document is perfect, passports have features that other forms of identification, such as birth certificates or driver’s licenses, do not, Ms. Kephart said. Passports denote citizenship; can be checked through criminal and terrorist watch lists and alerts; national records are maintained of the passports’ owners, so reported lost and stolen passports can be better tracked internationally; and they have particular security features that are more difficult to forge.
Officials at Homeland Security said limiting the types of documents presented will result in a more efficient border, noting that there are currently more than 8,000 different state and local entities in the United States that issue birth certificates and driver’s licenses.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers intercepted more than 75,000 fraudulent documents in fiscal 2005 and apprehended more than 84,000 people at the ports of entry trying to cross the border with fraudulent claims of citizenship or documents.
A separate proposed rule addressing land and sea travel is expected to go into effect in January 2008, when U.S. citizens traveling between this country and Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean and Bermuda by land or sea will be required to present a valid U.S. passport or other documents approved by Homeland Security.