U.S. to issue border cards for travellers

IDNUMBER 200801160042
PUBLICATION: The Windsor Star
DATE: 2008.01.16
EDITION: Final
SECTION: News
PAGE: A9
SOURCE: Windsor Star; News Services
WORD COUNT: 318

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U.S. to issue border cards for travellers

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The U.S. government will offer special "passport cards" as a cheap alternative to traditional documents for Americans returning from visiting Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean by land or sea, the State Department announced Tuesday.

MP Brian Masse (NDP -- Windsor West) said he hopes the new passport cards will encourage Americans to visit the Windsor-Essex area more often.

There had been concern that tightening rules for Americans returning from abroad would discourage many Americans from making the trip, since the majority of Americans don't go to the expense and trouble of getting passports.

"If this is done properly and with a good education campaign, it could actually be a good part of the step forward to return some normalcy to the reality of the (border) security issues," Masse said Tuesday night.

The State Department said it has awarded General Dynamics Information Technology a five-year contract of nearly US$100 million to produce the cards.

"The passport card will facilitate entry and expedite document processing at U.S. land and sea ports-of-entry when arriving from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda," the department said.

The government will begin distribution of the cards, which will not be accepted for air travel, in the spring. U.S. citizens can apply for them starting Feb. 1.

"This is a positive step forward, but what we need is a full ... government services campaign with support from the media to get the message out about things that are necessary to cross the border," said Masse, the NDP's border critic, said. "There are a ton of misconceptions about who needs a passport, when and where."

While passports are required for air travel in faraway countries, U.S. citizens have been allowed to show just a driver's licence when returning from neighbouring countries by land or sea.

But the government has been tightening travel rules since the attacks of September 11, 2001.

In December, Congress passed legislation that delays the implementation of passport requirements at land border points until at least the summer of 2009.

"It will be really interesting to see the effort put behind this because we've seen a thickening of the northern border," Masse said.