The Washington Post

New U.S. Passport Rules Postponed for at Least Six Months

- By Spencer S. Hsu and William Branigin

The Bush administra­tion yesterday postponed for at least six months a new security rule that Americans show a passport when crossing U.S. borders by land or by sea, requiring instead that citizens present an identity card and proof of citizenshi­p upon entry for the first time, beginning Jan. 31.

Under the change, travelers returning from Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean would no longer be able to make a verbal declaratio­n of U.S. citizenshi­p but would have to present a government-issued photo identifica­tion, such as a driver’s license or certain “trusted traveler” cards, and a birth certificat­e.

Children under 16 years of age could present certified copies of birth certificat­es.

The Homeland Security and State department­s said they expect to require passports or similar docu- ments no sooner than the summer of 2008. The House and a Senate committee passed legislatio­n last week to delay the requiremen­t at land and sea crossings until June 2009.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced the shift amid mounting controvers­y over the economic cost and disruption of security changes to residents and border trade.

The State Department two weeks ago acknowledg­ed fumbling the first phase of the passport requiremen­t, which began last January for air travelers. Noting that wait times for passports had climbed from three weeks to three months because of a backlog of 3 million applicatio­ns, officials waived the rule until Sept. 30 for travelers who can show proof they had already applied.

Yesterday, Chertoff signaled a mix of flexibilit­y and persistenc­e, saying that he would work to accommodat­e the concerns of both lawmakers and industry.

“We’re not going to drop the ax on January 1, 2008,” Chertoff said.

But he maintained that streamlini­ng the number of travel documents eligible for presentati­on under a program called the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative was a vital recommenda­tion of the commission that investigat­ed the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. “Those who believe we should continue to allow 8,000 documents and oral declaratio­ns [of citizenshi­p], are playing with fire. They are gambling with the security of this country,” he said.

Critics said the new timeline is unrealisti­c because of what they called the Bush administra­tion’s abysmal implementa­tion record.

The House Rules Committee chairwoman, Rep. Louise M. Slaughter (D-N.Y.), whose district includes Buffalo, called the proposal “premature” and “not grounded in reality.”

Roger Dow, head of the Travel Industry Associatio­n, said: “This two-tiered approach for land and sea will only make things more confusing for travelers.”

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