time to get them passports, matey

( '? I noticed in my blog stats that the US Customs Office had been visiting duckdaotsu, so I thought I would visit them. Isn't that lovely? ( '?

U.S. travelers to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda will need passports to return to the United States by 2008 under a new terrorism prevention policy, American officials said on Tuesday.

The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, to be phased in by 2008 in three proposed stages, will also require nationals of those countries and territories to present passports when entering the United States, the officials said.

Many North American cross-border travelers to and from the United States and its North American neighbors now need only drivers' licenses or other identification.

But from Dec. 31, 2007, passports or their equivalent will be the only documents accepted under the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, the officials said.

Under a proposed timetable that will be formalized later this year after a public review period, the passport rule will be imposed on air and sea travel to and from the Caribbean, Bermuda and Central and South America on Dec. 31, 2005. It will be extended to Canada and Mexico on Dec. 31, 2006.

"We want folks to think about their travel to and from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda as equivalent to taking a trip to Europe or Asia," said Elaine Dezenski, the Department of Homeland Security's acting assistant secretary for border and transportation security policy.

The department has been working to increase security at the borders after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

Dezenski said people could raise concerns or propose alternative travel documents during a 60-day review period.

The U.S. government is considering accepting other documents including the Border Crossing Card now used by citizens of Mexico and the Customs and Border Protection Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection (SENTRI), NEXUS and Free and Secure Trade (FAST) program cards, she said.

Sixty million U.S. citizens now hold passports, and the State Department issued 8.8 million passports in 2004. To meet the need for more passports, passport agencies will add 500 people to their current staff of 1,100, a State Department official said.

© Reuters 2005
Tue Apr 5, 2005 05:39 PM ET

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