Homeland Security to require passports for U.S. entry

Via CNN.com
11/22/2006

WASHINGTON (AP) — Virtually all air travelers entering the
United States beginning January 23 will need to show passports — even
U.S. citizens, the Homeland Security Department announced Wednesday.

Until
now, U.S. citizens, travelers from Canada and Bermuda, and some
travelers from Mexico who have special border-crossing cards for
frequent visitors were allowed to show other proofs of identification,
such as drivers’ licenses or birth certificates.

“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 in a statement.

Chertoff, who disclosed the
effective date in an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday,
said the change was a crucial next step to helping ensure the nation’s
security.

The department had been expected to institute the
passport requirement for air travelers around the beginning of the
year. Setting the date on January 23 pushes the start past the holiday
season.

“Each of these steps raises the bar to an attack. None of
this is perfect. None of them is foolproof. But we’re always better off
when we build higher levels of security,” he said in the interview.

“Right
now, there are 8,000 different state and local entities in the U.S.
issuing birth certificates and driver’s licenses,” Chertoff said.
Having to distinguish phony from real in so many different documents
“puts an enormous burden on our Customs and Border inspectors,” he said.

In
a few cases, other documents still may be used for air entry into the
U.S. by some frequent travelers between the U.S. and Canada, members of
the American military on official business and some U.S. merchant
mariners.

Under a separate program, Homeland Security plans to
require all travelers entering the U.S. by land or sea, including
Americans, to show passports or an alternative security identification
card when entering the U.S. starting as early as January 2008.

The
Homeland Security Department estimates that about one in four Americans
has a passport. Some people have balked at the $97 price tag.

The September 11 Commission said in its report, “For terrorists, travel documents are as important as weapons.”

The
commission recommended strengthening security of travel documents. A
2004 law passed by Congress mandated the change to require passports as
the only acceptable travel document, with few exceptions, but the exact
date had been in question.

Canadian officials and some members of
Congress from border states have expressed concern that the changes
could interfere with travel and commerce.

Chertoff said his
agency’s data revealed that in September 2006, 90 percent of passengers
leaving from Canadian airports had passports. The department estimated
that 69 percent of U.S. air travelers to Canada, 58 percent of U.S.
travelers to Mexico, and 75 percent of U.S. travelers to the Caribbean
hold passports.

“Could James Bond and Q come up with a fake
passport?” Chertoff asked, referring to the fictional British spy and
his espionage agency’s technical genius. Of course, he replied, because
“nothing is completely perfect.”

Still, he said, with new
technology, it is increasingly difficult to forge passports, and having
just one document to scrutinize should make inspection easier for both
inspectors and travelers.

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