U.S. Customs prepared for passport law

By Diana Graettinger,
Posted May 22, 2009, at 8:56 p.m.

CALAIS, Maine — It is crunch time. Beginning June 1, U.S. citizens will have to present either a passport or passcard when entering the United States across land and sea borders from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean or Bermuda.

Ted Woo, chief public affairs officer for Customs and Border Protection in Boston, said Thursday the agency is ready for the June 1 changeover.

“Customs and Board Protection is well-prepared for the June 1st implementation of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, and we don’t anticipate any problems whatsoever,” Woo said.

Woo said he also believes the public is ready.

“I would say that in Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire there are a lot of people coming across already using their passports,” he said.

In April, federal agencies held meetings across the state to raise awareness of changes in international travel laws.

Most people are familiar with the little blue booklet with the usually less than flattering pictures inside, but public awareness of the new wallet-sized U.S. Passport Card is also on the increase. The country began production of the passcard last year and so far more than 1 million have been issued, according to the U.S. State Department Web site.

Showing documentation to get back into the country went into effect last year along the nation’s borders.

Most people who entered the country, at least along the Maine border, were prepared for the new Homeland Security rules that required either a passport or one form of photo identification and proof of citizenship, usually a driver’s license with a picture on it and a birth certificate.

For those people who forgot their identification, or just ignored the requirements, CBP officials were flexible about enforcing the new rules. The individual was questioned and then made aware of the change and given a small flier telling them what to do.

But on June 1, government documentation in the form of a passport or passcard will be required. Those who do not have a passport on June 1 should expect delays at the border.

“The bottom line is that the CBP officer must be able to ascertain whether or not that person standing in front of them is who they say they are,” Woo said. “If they have a passport or passport card … then it would make the process a lot quicker. It definitely helps speed things up,” he said. “If they don’t, then they will be advised through a tear sheet that they are not in compliance and it may take a moment or two for the CBP officer to determine who that person is.”

Most Calais residents who regularly cross the border seem to be ready for the change. City Manager Diane Barnes said Thursday she has not heard any complaints from the more than 3,500 residents in Calais about having a passport.

“I think most of the people on the border here, because they know it was coming, were pretty much ready,” she said.

City Clerk Theresa Porter said the demand for birth certificates has been steady for the past year. “Right now people that are coming into my office are saying, ‘I guess I have procrastinated long enough; I need to get this,’” she said with a laugh.

She said people are asking for birth certificates for their passports and passcards, but also because the state now requires anyone who renews a driver’s license to show proof of citizenship.

For more information about the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, go to www.travel.state.gov or www.getyouhome.gov.

http://bangordailynews.com/2009/05/22/news/us-customs-prepared-for-passport-law/ printed on July 24, 2014