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Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Its Getting Cold at the Border

By Larry Arredondo

It’s becoming less and less a privilege to be an American citizen when we re-enter the United States. All will be treated with suspicion and must prove they belong in the U.S. when crossing the border headed north. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the U.S. Department of State (DOS) have issued a statement reminding the traveling public that as of Jan. 31, 2008, all adult travelers will be required to present proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate, AND proof of identity, such as a driver's license, when entering the United States through land and sea ports of entry. It might take as much preparation and documentation to get back into the U.S. as it does to leave it.

Currently, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers may accept oral declarations of citizenship from U.S. and Canadian citizens entering the United States through a land or sea border. As of January 31, 2008, your word alone will be no good anymore. U.S. and Canadian citizens ages 19 and older will need to present a government-issued photo ID, such as a driver's license, along with proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate or naturalization certificate. Children ages 18 and under will only be required to present proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate. Passports and trusted traveler program cards - NEXUS, SENTRI and FAST - will continue to be accepted for cross-border travel. So if you’re already approved for the SENTRI lanes crossing the border, you’re in good shape. All existing nonimmigrant visa and passport requirements will remain in effect and will not be altered by this change.

DHS claims this change is a necessary step to prepare travelers and ease the transition to future requirements of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI). I suppose this means the regulations are going to become even more fun. Part of the purpose of WHTI is to establish documentation requirements for travelers entering the United States who were previously exempt, including citizens of the U.S., Canada, and Bermuda. As recommended by the 9/11 Commission, Congress enacted WHTI in the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, and it is hoped that WHTI will result in both enhanced security and increased facilitation across the border once implemented. During this transition, DHS and the Department of State say they are working diligently to minimize the impact on legitimate trade and travel.

DOS is stating that the current turnaround time for a passport is four to six weeks, so if you don’t have a passport already, now is the time to get it. It’s very important to have all our “docs in a row” with the climate changes at the border. These websites will help. For information about U.S. Passports visit www.travel.state.gov or call 1-877-487-2778. Specific documentation requirements for land, sea and air travel may be found at www.cbpgov/xp/cgov/travel/vacation/ready_set_go/. To learn about NEXUS, SENTRI and FAST, visit www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/travel/trusted_traveler/. Happy border hopping.