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Originally published June 1, 2009 at 12:40 PM | Page modified June 1, 2009 at 1:02 PM

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New border rules kick in: Pack the right ID for Canada trip

Travelers must take the right ID for land/sea trips to Canada and Mexico

The Associated Press and Seattle Times Travel staff

BLAINE, Whatcom County — New rules requiring passports or new high-tech documents to cross the United States' northern and southern land and sea borders took effect Monday, as some rue the tightening of security and others hail it as long overdue.

Vehicle traffic was moving normally at the main border crossing at the Peace Arch at Blaine this morning, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Tom Schreiber said agents were seeing few people Monday morning without the required documents.

The border-crossing ID rules are being implemented nearly eight years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and long after the 9/11 Commission recommended the changes. They were delayed by complaints from state officials who worried the restrictions would hinder the flow of people and commerce and affect border towns dependent on international crossings.

In 2001, a driver's license and an oral declaration of citizenship were enough to cross the Canadian and Mexican land/sea borders; Monday's changes are the last step in a gradual ratcheting up of the rules. Now Americans must use a passport, passport card, a special driver's license or "trusted traveler" card to cross the border. (The ID requirements for foreign citizens who are legal residents of the U.S. don't change.) A passport already is required for all international air travel.

"It's sad," said Steve Saltzman, a 60-year-old dual Canadian-American citizen as he entered the U.S. at the Peace Arch crossing in Blaine, Whatcom County, recently. "This was the longest undefended border in the world. Now all of the sudden it is defended, and not nearly as friendly."

Near the border crossing, Blaine resident Mike Williams disagreed.

"This concept was past due," said Williams. "Because it's not a safe world and it's becoming more dangerous all the time."

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials say they're confident the transition will be smooth.

"Our research indicates approximately 80 percent of the individuals coming in now, U.S. and Canadians, are compliant," and are crossing with proof of citizenship, said Thomas Winkowski, assistant commissioner for field operations at Customs and Border Protection.

The higher noncompliance areas, he said, are primarily U.S. citizens in the southern border region traveling to and from Mexico.

Travelers who do not comply with the new requirements will get a warning and be allowed to enter the U.S. after a background check, said Michele James, director of field operations for the northern border that covers Washington state.

"We're going to be very practical and flexible on June 1 and thereafter," James said.

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The new rule, which also affects sea crossings, is the final implementation of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, a security measure crafted from recommendations from the 9/11 Commission.

It's part of a gradual boost in security along the northern border that has featured millions of dollars in upgrades and the hiring of hundreds of more customs officers and U.S. Border Patrol agents.

Under the new rule, travelers must have a passport, a passport card, an enhanced driver license (Washington state is among the few states that issue them) or a "trusted traveler" card for prescreened travelers such as the Nexus card.

There are some exceptions. Children under 16 traveling with family; people under 19 traveling in youth group; Native Americans; and members of the military on an active-duty assignment will be able to use different forms of identification. Children under 16 can use a birth certificate as ID; those 16-18 traveling with a school, sports or religious group also can use a birth certificate.

The U.S. State Department said there has been no spike in passport applications because of the June 1 deadline. There was a significant increase in applications in 2007 when it became required to show a passport for air travel to Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean. That year a backlog of applications accumulated, with months-long delays in issuing passports.

Kristin Jackson of Seattle Times Travel contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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