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The Importance of the New Passport Rules

Hopefully by now, everyone is aware of the new travel document requirements that took effect on January 31st. Effective that date, the U.S. is ending oral declarations at the border, except in extraordinary situations and accepting a list of about two dozen types of documents at the border instead of the over 8,000 documents currently being accepted. This list is available here.

"U.S. Customs and Border Protection faces a much greater challenge to identify and screen individuals at land ports of entry, in part because of the lack of advance traveler information and the high volume of traffic at many locations. Unlike travelers who enter the country at airports, travelers entering through land ports of entry can arrive at virtually any time and may present thousands of different forms of documentation, ranging from oral declarations of U.S. or Canadian citizenship, driver’s licenses, birth certificates, passports, visas, permanent resident cards, or U.S. military identity cards." from Border Security Report, November 2007
Government Accountability Office

An explanation of the new U.S. Border Crossing rules can be found here.

For most American citizens getting or renewing your U.S. Passport is the easiest and most logical path to easy travel. Except for the price that continues to rise each year (about $110 if you’re not renewing), the process is painless and doesn’t take long (it took approximately two weeks for my wife and I to receive our new Passports). This is especially true given the expected implementation of the requirement for a passport for all travel out of the U.S. effective in mid-2009 (delayed by a year). Today, you need a valid travel document to enter or re-enter the U.S. from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean. While it cannot be used for air travel, a new card, the U.S. Passport Card, will be issued to applicants and will suffice for land and sea border travel.

There are simple, and then there are more complicated reasons why all of this is important. One example is this:

On December 30, 2007, a man by the name of Coronado Paez tried to enter the United States. He presented a State of California identification card and orally claimed to be a U.S. citizen. Officers suspected Garcia was not the rightful holder of the identification card and referred him for a more in-depth inspection. A routine data query and fingerprint check revealed that the man was actually Mexican-born Andres Garcia-Landeros and was wanted for homicide in California. Garcia was transported to the custody of the San Diego Sheriff's Department.

If you need further reasons for all of these new regulations and requirements, then you only need to look at the following. Today it was reported that Iraqis affiliated with al Qaeda and former Ba’athists entered Kuwait with counterfeit Norwegian passports.

Of course, this is no surprise. The problem of forged and counterfeit passports has been a high visibility issue for quite some time, even though with all of the changes being made, there are still questions of security.

Kunio Hatoyama, Japan’s minister of justice recently revealed:

"A friend of a friend is a member of al-Qaeda”, and had entered Japan numerous times using false passports and disguises. Moreover, he added: “This particular person was actually involved in the bombings in the centre of Bali.” He continued: “Although he is a friend of my friend, I was advised not to go close to the centre of Bali because it will be bombed.” Mr Hatoyama concluded by explaining that the fingerprinting policy would prevent such people from entering the country.

And then, finally, you have the article written by Olivier Guitta in the Weekly Standard, The Canadian Peril. The threat goes beyond the “millennium plot” and includes the fact that in the fourth quarter of 2007, the Customs and Border Patrol stopped over 1500 people at the Canadian border falsely claiming to be U.S. citizens. Further, Guitta wrote:

A June 2007 backgrounder on counterterrorism by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (a kind of combined FBI-CIA) concedes, under the heading "Canada as a base for terrorist activities": Our country's openness and respect for human rights also make it attractive to members of terrorist organizations bent on using Canada as a base to support their activities. International terrorist groups have been active in Canada for years but, more often than not, they were engaged in support of activities such as fundraising or acquiring matériel and equipment. In the last decade or so, the threat has evolved, and Canadians and Canadian interests at home and abroad are at increased risk.

While there will continue to be claims that the new security features in the U.S. Passports and Border Security Cards lead to “privacy” issues, and there are still questions about the credentials themselves, all of these steps are necessary to ensure the future integrity of our borders.