About 20 percent of Americans -- 60 million people -- already have passports.
DETROIT (AP) -- Flashing a driver's license when returning from jaunts to Mexico, Canada or the Caribbean won't be enough in a few years after federal officials announced plans to tighten re-entry rules.
Americans would need passports to come home to the United States by 2008 under guidelines recently proposed, the latest effort to deter terrorists from entering the country.
Across the country, the proposal drew mixed reaction from those who use the crossings with Canada and Mexico. Some say people will simply adapt to the new rules the way they have other changes, while others worry that requiring passports could cause delays or make them less likely to cross.
Detroit to Windsor
The guidelines don't concern Shirley Foran, who always carries her passport, birth certificate and Michigan driver's license when she makes one of her half-dozen or so trips a year across the Detroit River to Canada.
It's a quick drive -- traffic permitting -- to Windsor, Ontario, where restaurants and Casino Windsor are among the attractions for day-trippers.
"I don't want them to change the rules when I'm in the other country," Foran said.
But Johanna Hitcome, who spent a few hours recently at the Fort Erie Race Track and Slots in Ontario, predicted the requirement would end excursions to Canada for many. The Detroit-Windsor crossings are the busiest links between the United States and Canada.
"It would restrict a lot of people," said Hitcome, 68, of Lakewood in Chautauqua County, N.Y. "The idea of getting a passport is too mind-boggling," she said.
An estimated 60 million Americans -- about 20 percent of the nation's population -- have passports.
The new rules, which would be phased in by 2008, apply to Americans traveling from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, the Caribbean and Panama. They also apply to citizens from those countries who want to enter the United States -- prompting Canadian officials to announce that they might reciprocate.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said U.S. officials have been working with their international counterparts "for some time" to shore up security measures without crimping the flow of commerce across borders. The new rules were called for in intelligence legislation that Congress passed last year.
"It's part of the recognition that in 2001, when Sept. 11 happened -- and frankly before that, when you think about the millennium plot in 1999 -- these were borders that I think no one could call secure," Rice said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Garrett Mesquita, a student at California State University at San Marcos, wasn't pleased by the step.
"I think it's a whole lot of trouble," said Mesquita, 23, who was crossing the border at San Ysidro Port of Entry, the world's busiest border crossing, which links San Diego and Tijuana, Mexico. "I don't think it's necessary."
The new requirements would take effect on Dec. 31, 2007, for travelers entering the United States from Mexico and Canada by land, and on Dec. 31, 2006, by air or sea.
The deadline is a year earlier -- Dec. 31, 2005 -- for travel from Bermuda, the Caribbean and Panama. The proposed rules are scheduled to be finalized this fall. Until then, the government will solicit comments from the public.
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 affected by the new rules, including both government-issued photo IDs like a driver's license plus proof of citizenship like a birth certificate.
On occasion, Americans returning from these countries are allowed back after only verbally declaring their citizenship, said Homeland Security Deputy Assistant Secretary Elaine K. Dezenski.
Once the new system takes effect, people entering the United States from Mexico will continue to be able to use a border crossing card or SENTRI card instead of passports. These cards are obtained after background checks and other security measures.
On the northern border, the NEXUS card for preapproved, low-risk travelers, and the FAST card for commercial workers will be acceptable instead of a passport.
XFor more information, visit the State Department at www.state.gov and the Homeland Security Department at www.dhs.gov/dhspublic.
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