January 05, 2007

Passport not required for U.S. citizens returning by land

By Pablo Jaime Sáinz

The law that will require all U.S. citizens to show their passports when arriving by air to the United States beginning on Jan. 23, will not affect San Diegans that visit Baja by land, customs officials said.

“This will only be a requirement for citizens arriving by air,” said Angelica de Cima, spokesperson for U.S. Customs and Border Protection in San Diego.

Those returning to the U.S. via the San Ysidro and Otay Mesa ports of entry won’t need to show their passports –just yet.

De Cima said that a passport will be required for all modes of entering the U.S. until 2008.

She added that when Jan. 23 arrives, travellers won’t notice any changes in the San Diego ports of entry. Agents will still accept state identifications and drivers licenses as a form of identification to reenter the U.S., she said.

Nevertheless, she urged U.S. citizens to obtain a U.S. passport, which she said is a more secure document.

Lorena Blanco, spokesperson for the U.S. Consulate in Tijuana, said that the consulate is planning a media and advertising campaign to alert Americans in Baja California that the change taking place in January won’t affect those reentering the U.S. by land.

“American citizens visiting Tijuana, Rosarito, Ensenada, won’t be affected by this change,” she said.

In November, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Department of State announced the official requirement for citizens of the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Bermuda to present a passport to enter the United States when arriving by air from any part of the Western Hemisphere beginning January 23, 2007.

“The ability to misuse travel documents to enter this country opens the door for a terrorist to carry out an attack. We can not continue to allow loopholes that could facilitate access to the United States through false claims of citizenship or fake identities,” said DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff in a statement. “This initiative strengthens our border security by designating verifiable secure documents that may be used at our air ports of entry.”

This change in travel document requirements is the result of recommendations made by the 9/11 Commission, which Congress subsequently passed into law in the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004.

CBP officers intercepted more than 75,000 fraudulent documents in fiscal year 2005 and apprehended more than 84,000 individuals at the ports of entry trying to cross the border with fraudulent claims of citizenship or documents.

The Department has dedicated additional resources and personnel to meet the increased demand for passports generated by these requirements. In Fiscal Year 2006, the Department issued a record 12.1 million passports to American citizens, and anticipates issuing 16 million passports in Fiscal Year 2007.

De Cima said that U.S. citizens can find information about how to apply for a passport at travel.state.gov or by calling 1-877-487-2778. There’s information available in Spanish.

Allow a sufficient amount of time to apply and receive the passport in advance of travel. Allow 6 to 8 weeks for processing of the passport application.

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