CALAIS, Maine — Motorists who crossed the two bridges connecting Calais with St. Stephen, New Brunswick, faced few delays on Monday, the first day of the requirement to show government-approved documentation — either a passport or passcard — to enter the U.S.
Most people zipped across the downtown Ferry Point Bridge and the nearby Milltown Bridge over the St. Croix River without any hitches.
But crossing into the United States hasn’t always been easy.
Days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, there were long lines and delays for up to three hours at the two bridges as customs officers scrutinized everyone who entered the country.
After enactment of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative of 2004, identification, usually in the form of a driver’s license, was all that was needed to cross, but there still were long lines at the border.
Most people who entered the country, at least along the Maine border, were prepared for the new Homeland Security rules that took effect in February 2008 requiring 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. But there were still some delays.
On Monday, the changeover to secure travel documents went into effect.
Steven Farquharson, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s director of field operation for New England who was on the border watching, said things were moving along smoothly.
Drivers pulled up to the customs booth and handed over their government-approved documentation.
The documents were scanned. A few questions were asked about what the motorist might be bringing into the country, and then they were on their way. In most cases it took less than a minute.
Farquharson said the early count showed that about 96 percent of the people who entered Maine on Monday had the appropriate documentation.
The majority of cars that crossed were from New Brunswick.
There were a few cars from Maine and a smattering of cars from other states, including Florida, Virginia and Massachusetts.
People who were not in compliance were given a “tear sheet” directing them to get the necessary documents or face delays at the border while Customs and Border Protection officers determined their identity and citizenship.
The U.S. government has done its homework promoting the shift in documentation. There have been passport fairs on both sides of the border. And even as late as in April, federal agencies held meetings across the state to raise awareness of changes in international travel laws.
As the U.S. representative to Atlantic Canada, Harold D. Foster, consul general for the U.S. Department of State in Halifax, said Monday he has spent the past three years talking about the changeover to Canadians.
“My role was to try to get the word out to the Canadian community that this requirement was coming down the road and that they should be prepared for it and ready for it, and if they did, things would go smoothly,” he said.
Foster, who arrived at the Ferry Point Bridge around 7 a.m., said he was pleased with the results.
“I think that the word has gotten out and people are showing up with passports or other WHTI [Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative] compliant documents like passcards,” he said.
Foster said the new documentation makes the crossing easier. “By having a set of documents that are recognized it makes it easier for these guys and gals who are manning the posts. They don’t have to recognize 8,000 different birth certificates,” he said.