As of June 1, 2009, U.S. travelers returning home from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean or Bermuda will have to present a passport, or one of a limited number of official ID’s, to reenter the country by land or sea.
by Congressman Michael Turner
As of June 1, 2009, U.S. travelers returning home from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean or Bermuda will have to present a passport, or one of a limited number of official ID’s, to reenter the country by land or sea. The tighter travel identification requirements were implemented at the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission to bolster the security of America’s borders and entry points.
Before 2007, the majority of U.S. travelers returning home by plane, car or boat from the Western Hemisphere did not have to show a U.S. passport to enter the country. In fact, many Americans only needed a U.S. driver’s license to pass customs checkpoints. While convenient for honest travelers, this also made it possible for others with less innocent intentions to slip into the country. In response, Congress approved the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative to close this security loophole for travel along America’s borders and the Caribbean.
Since the new rules have been in effect, Americans’ demand for passports has been high. A record 18.3 million U.S. passports were issued in 2007, and 2008 saw 16.2 million more such applications. Over 404,000 new passports were granted to Ohioans alone last year. Not surprisingly, the rush to obtain passports brought significant delays, with waits of up to four months for people applying for a first-time passport. My office received hundreds of calls for assistance during this backlog and was able to expedite the approval of passports for most who sought our help. The wait times for new passports today have returned to approximately six to eight weeks, and two weeks for expedited service.
While all U.S. air travelers already have to present valid passports to enter the country, as of June 1, land and sea travelers returning from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda must have either a U.S. passport, a U.S. passport card, an Enhanced Driver’s License (EDL) or a Trusted Traveler Program Card. A U.S. passport card is a new, limited-use, wallet size travel document that costs less than a full passport. However, it’s valid only for land and sea travel. An Enhanced Driver’s License, issued by participating states, can also be used for cross-border land and sea travel. Additionally, Trusted Traveler Program Cards, such as NEXUS, SENTRI or FAST enrollment cards, are also valid for land and sea entry.
There are exceptions to the new travel document rules affecting special groups and children. A child age 15 and under will be able to enter the U.S. by land or sea by presenting an original or copy of their birth certificate or naturalization certificate or citizenship card. School, religious and social groups or sports teams with youth members ages 16 to 18 can also enter the U.S. via land or sea with copies of their birth certificates or other certified citizenship form.
Planning ahead is essential to ensure your upcoming trip goes smoothly. Even if you have no planned travel abroad, if you have family living or traveling out of the country it still may be advisable to get a passport. For more information about these new travel identification requirements, you may visit the U.S. government website about the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative – http://www.getyouhome.gov. To find out how to apply for a U.S. passport, visit the U.S. State Department’s passport page at http://travel.state.gov. Should you require assistance with your passport application, feel free to contact my Dayton congressional office at 937-225-2843.
During an interview with WDTN's Dan Edwards, Congressman Turner addressed the new passport regulations and how his office can help constituents.