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Rules Change in June on Entry to Canada, Mexico

The acting head of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency expects the June 1 implementation of new documentation requirements for land crossings from Canada and Mexico will be smooth.

The reason?

U.S. citizens who don't have the required documents will be given a sheet of paper telling them they are not in compliance and waved through. But the Customs and Border Protection agency won't say how many days or weeks it will issue just a warning.

Question: Why are the changes being made?

Answer: Under the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, Congress required that all international travelers must prove their identity and citizenship. The new rules already are in effect for air travel. The requirement will extend to land crossings and sea ports on June 1.

Q: What documents are required?

A: There are several options. Travelers may use a passport, a passport card, an enhanced driver's license or one of three trusted traveler documents. Those three programs are Nexus, Sentri and Fast. The Fast program is for commercial truckers. Sentri is used only at the U.S.-Mexico border. Nexus is used at the U.S.-Canada border.

Q: How do I get a passport?

A: Applications for passports and passport cards are available at U.S. post offices and at www.travel.state.gov.

First-time passports cost $100 for applicants 16 or older, $85 for children. (Renewals are $75.) They are acceptable for travel worldwide by air, land or sea. Processing takes one to two months. Expedited passports are available for an additional fee.

Wallet-sized passport cards cost $45 for those over 15, and $35 for those younger. (Renewals are $20) They are not valid for international air travel, but may be used at U.S. land and seaports.

Q: Why would someone get a passport card instead of a passport?

A: These wallet-sized cards have radio frequency identification technology imbedded in them that allow them to be swiped on a machine, shortening the time it takes to pass through a land border crossing.

Q: Where can I get an enhanced driver's license?

A: Only four states - New York, Michigan, Vermont and Washington - are offering enhanced driver's licenses at this point, although more are planning to do so. Michigan issues them through the Secretary of State's office. The others do it through their Department of Motor Vehicles. Applicants must wait two to three weeks in New York, Michigan and Washington. Vermont takes five to 10 days.

Q: What about children?

A: Children age 16 and under can satisfy the requirement with a birth certificate.

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Here are key dates leading up to the new rules:

Dec. 8, 2004: Congress passes the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, which requires among other things that secure documents be presented to enter the United States.

2006: Under pressure from lobbyists, private industry and governments, Congress delays the passport requirement for land or sea travelers entering the United States from Mexico or Canada.

Jan. 23, 2007: Beginning of requirement that travelers entering the U.S. by plane present a passport or other secure form of identification, such as a Real ID.

December 2007: Congress delays a requirement that beginning Jan. 31, 2008, all travelers entering the U.S. by land or sea present a passport or other secure form of ID.

Jan. 31, 2008: Beginning of requirement that travelers entering the U.S. by car or boat present proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate and driver's license.

June 1, 2009: Travelers entering the U.S. by land or sea must present a passport or other secure form of ID.

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