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Napolitano: Passport Program Ready To Go

A long-delayed requirement for Americans traveling to Mexico or Canada to have a passport will take effect June 1 as promised with no further postponements, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Tuesday.

The Department of Homeland Security has handed out more than 6 million information sheets to people crossing the borders and has run TV ads reminding Americans that it will no longer be possible to cross the borders and re-enter the U.S. without a U.S. passport or special U.S. passport card.

Americans have become accustomed to crossing the borders by car or on foot without having to show anything more than a driver's license.

"These are real borders, the law is the law, and this is not going to be postponed any more," Napolitano said at a breakfast meeting with reporters.

The passport requirement, part of an anti-terrorism measure known as the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, had originally been scheduled to take effect last summer during the Bush administration. It was delayed largely by northern border lawmakers in Congress, who feared it would disrupt commerce and tourism between the U.S. and Canada.

Napolitano said federal border officials are ready to implement the new requirements, and she said she is confident the program will go well, without big backups at the borders.

"If you'd have asked me four months ago if we were ready, I'd have said I don't know," the former Arizona governor said. "But the department has done everything humanly possible to give this thing a smooth landing."

Napolitano said she knows some Americans will be caught by surprise on June 1st, and some have procrastinated too long getting their passports.

"We'll work with them at the border," she said.

Under the new requirements, Americans must have a traditional U.S. passport book or a less-expensive passport card to re-enter the country by land or sea after traveling to Mexico, Canada, Bermuda or the Caribbean region.

Americans traveling by plane to and from those countries must have a passport book. A passport card will not be accepted.

The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative was created after Congress passed the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, requiring all travelers to the U.S. to carry a passport as proof of citizenship.

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Contact Erin Kelly at ekelly(AT)gannett.com.

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On the Web:

www.dhs.gov, Department of Homeland Security, search for "Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative"

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