New rules for U.S.-Canada border to start next month
But some say the requirements will create chaos, lines
By MIMI HALL
January 18, 2008
Citing a dangerous security gap along the northern border, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Thursday he'll begin enforcing new border-crossing rules next month, despite concerns that they could confuse and inconvenience U.S. and Canadian citizens.
The rules, which are to begin Jan. 31, will end the long-standing practice of allowing oral declarations of U.S. citizenship at the border.
Adults who don't have passports will no longer be able to simply tell agents they are U.S. citizens. They'll be required to show an identification card, such as a driver's license, and proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate.
“The most urgent reason to do this is national security,” Chertoff said.
He said that leaving the oral declarations in place at the northern border makes a mockery of the government's efforts to stop illegal immigration across the southern border with Mexico.
His plans come a month after Congress ordered him to delay a requirement that citizens show passports to enter the country by land or seaport. When the passport rule took effect for airline passengers last year, it created huge backlogs in passport applications.
Passport offices have since caught up. But aiming to avoid another crisis, Congress passed a measure forcing Chertoff to delay enforcing the requirement for sea or land entries until the summer of 2009.
Some lawmakers and border groups say the new requirement will create chaos and long lines at border crossings.
U.S. Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., said she may seek a court order to stop the implementation.
“We're not going to stand for it,” she said. “There will be such a tie-up at that border. It will be the worst the world has ever seen.”
In a letter to senators Thursday, Chertoff said, “Quite simply, we would be irresponsible if we continued to allow people to enter the United States based on no more than their say-so.”
In the last three months of 2007, customs officers reported 1,517 cases in which people falsely claimed to be U.S. citizens when crossing the U.S.-Canadian border.
“We do not know how many false oral declarations we miss,” Chertoff wrote to senators.
Chertoff said it's not fair for Congress to criticize his department for failing to secure the borders and then prevent him from taking steps to do just that.
“That's making a piata out of the Department of Homeland Security,” he said.
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