Security Checks Slowing Entry Into U.S.

Security checks slowing entry into U.S.

Traffic backed up earlier this summer on the Blue Water Bridge toward Port Huron, Mich., from Ontario. Border residents and businesses blame the delay on new ID rules for U.S. citizens returning to the country.

September 4, 2007

Stepped-up inspections at the Canadian and Mexican borders have led to lines nearly as long as they were after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

The longer lines of people driving into the United States from Mexico or Canada, some returning U.S. citizens, have appeared over the past month or two at several ports of entry.

The wait to cross became so long recently at Blue Water Bridge, which connects Port Huron, Mich., with Point Edward/Sarnia, Ontario, that the Ministry of Transportation in Ontario set up portable toilets along the road.

“Many motorists have become stranded in the lineups, not expecting such a long delay. Not since 9/11 have the backups been so common,” said Garry McDonald, president of the Sarnia Lambton Chamber of Commerce, which requested the toilets.

Border-area residents and businesses blame new rules that require U.S. citizens to show driver's licenses, passports or other photo identification. They say there is not enough staff to inspect the documents, collect information and do additional vehicle checks.

At the Peace Bridge connecting Buffalo, N.Y., and Fort Erie, Ontario, time to inspect a vehicle rose from 54 seconds last year to about 75 seconds this year, said Ron Rienas, Peace Bridge general manager. People wanting to travel to Buffalo to shop or dine are deterred by the long lines, he said.

“Obviously, something happened, some sort of policy directive that has resulted in longer processing times,” Mr. Rienas said. “We've inquired, but the response we've gotten is, 'We've always done these kinds of checks.' ”

Previously, U.S. citizens could declare their citizenship, declare any goods they were bringing back with them and be waved through unless the inspector felt the need to do further checks.

At the Detroit Windsor Tunnel, average total crossing times also increased. In January, it took 15 minutes to cross into the United States at the tunnel. Last month, the average time was 23 minutes.

In late July, hours-long waits were reported to reach a U.S. border station in Derby Line, Vt., while there was no backup to cross into Canada.

Veronica Callaghan, who runs an industrial real estate business in El Paso, Texas, said many of the border community's residents are accustomed to seeing lines grow, but in the past three to four weeks, the waits have seemed longer as more identification checks occur.

Delays on the southern border prompted an angry letter to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff from the Border Trade Alliance, a U.S. association of border businesses, chambers of commerce, academic institutions and others.

Three of the group's leaders said Customs and Border Protection had adopted a policy at Mr. Chertoff's direction to “check and enter” at least 60 percent of U.S. citizens' driver's licenses. They asked him to end the practice.

CBP spokeswoman Maggie Myers denied Mr. Chertoff ordered the stepped-up checks.