Bush wants new travel rules reconsidered
President Bush said yesterday that he was surprised by his administration’s plans to require U.S. citizens to show a passport when reentering the country from Mexico, Canada and the Caribbean, and he ordered an administration review of whether the entry rules should be relaxed.
The president said he has instructed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and officials from the Department of Homeland Security to see if there is enough flexibility in the new policy to accommodate regular travelers, including truckers and tourists. Bush said one option might be electronic fingerprint imaging, “to serve as a so-called passport for daily traffic.”
“When I first read that in the newspaper about the need to have passports, particularly today’s crossings that take place, about a million for instance in the state of Texas, I said, `What’s going on here?’” Bush said when asked, at a meeting, about the rules.
The changed policy, in the planning stages for months and announced April 5, is aimed at preventing terrorists from entering the country by exploiting what U.S. officials believe is today’s overly permissive policy. In most cases, U.S. citizens must show only driver’s licenses to reenter from Mexico and Canada. The new rules also will require Mexicans and Canadians to present a passport or another official document to enter this country.
The change has raised concerns among businesses, such as trucking and tourism companies, that rely on easy access to Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean islands — the latter a hot destination for many U.S. travelers. Yet the concern expressed by Bush is unusual, since the White House signed off on the change.
“On the larger scale, we’ve got a lot to do to enforce the border,” Bush said.
In December, Bush signed into law an intelligence overhaul that requires tighter border security and was the basis for the passport proposal. The White House did not immediately say why the president was unaware of the plans announced by his administration just a week earlier.
The proposed guidelines would require passports or a select number of other secure documents from anyone including Americans entering the United States from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, the Caribbean and Panama. The rules were scheduled to become final this fall after a public comment period and to be phased in by 2008.
Currently, Americans generally need to show a driver’s license or other government-issued photo identification to cross the border from Canada. Customs officials usually require more proof from Americans returning from the other countries; a driver’s license plus a birth certificate to prove citizenship, for example.
They’re part of provisions outlined in the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act adopted last year.
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