New U.S. border rules take effect for land and sea entry

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PHOENIX -- Headed to Canada, Mexico, Bermuda or the Caribbean? Here's a tip: Take your passport to avoid a headache coming home.

Are you prepared?

U.S. and Canadian citizens must now present passports -- or a very limited number of other travel documents -- when entering the United States at land and sea borders.

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Beginning Monday, the slow squeeze of border security will tighten further when a rule takes effect requiring U.S. and Canadian citizens to present passports -- or a very limited number of other travel documents -- when entering the United States at land and sea borders.

Air travelers have been required to carry travel documents since January 2007. But the number of people crossing land borders is far greater, and the June 1 deadline is being viewed with some trepidation, especially in Canadian border communities where cross-border travel by citizens of both countries historically required minimal documentation.

The same rules will be in effect for U.S. residents attempting to re-enter the country at the southern border. Existing document requirements will remain in place for Mexican nationals wanting to enter the United States.

The rule was originally scheduled to take effect more than a year ago, but Congress delayed it amid complaints that people weren't prepared and that trade, tourism and commerce with Canada -- the United States' biggest trading partner -- would be hurt.

Here's a rundown of what will be accepted:

A U.S. passport, a travel document issued by the State Department. Passports cost $100 for people 16 and older and $85 for those under 16.

A U.S. Passport Card, a card valid for entry to the United States by land or sea from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean or Bermuda. It is not valid for international air travel. The cards cost $45 for people 16 and older, $35 for those under age 16, and $20 if requested with a new or renewed passport.

A "trusted traveler" card. The cards -- NEXUS, SENTRI and FAST -- are issued to pre-approved frequent border crossers, allowing them to use dedicated lanes to expedite their crossings.

An Enhanced Driver's License. Four states currently issue the cards, which denote both the holder's identity and citizenship. Those states are Michigan, New York, Vermont and Washington.

More information can be found at .

Those misgivings have now partly subsided. The Department of Homeland Security says 80 to 90 percent of routine border crossers have the required documents, and new technology has been installed at all major border crossings to speed up passenger and pedestrian identification. Further, the U.S. government is promising "soft" enforcement for the indefinite future.

But business and tourism groups aren't entirely at ease, saying this and other border restrictions are hurting regional commerce.

Hardest hit, they say, are retail businesses and restaurants on both sides of the border as some shoppers opt to stay in their home countries rather than get travel documents. Tourist destinations also could be hit as families calculate the cost of getting passports for the entire brood.

In addition, trans-national convention businesses could be hurt, as could Detroit, Michigan's ailing auto business if the program misfires and traffic clogs international bridges and tunnels, the conduits for auto parts manufactured and assembled on both sides of the border.

"We're going to watch it. We're going to watch it very closely," said Roger Dow, president of the U.S. Travel Association.

He said the new rule -- known as the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative -- went smoothly for air travel but faces bigger challenges at land borders.

"I guarantee you there's someone in Kansas or someone in Ottawa who's never even heard what WHTI is, who is used to going on their summer vacation with their driver's license," he said. "So we're watching it."

The year-long delay has given many border crossers time to get travel documents. About 92 million Americans now have passports, 585,000 have enrolled in three "trusted traveler" programs whose cards also serve as border documentation, and 130,000 have "enhanced driver's licenses," which are accepted as well.

That means about 30 percent of Americans have approved travel documents.

"But the fact remains ... there's still a whole lot of people without passports," said Sarah Hubbard of the Detroit Regional Chamber. The full impact of the passport requirement will be difficult to measure, she said, noting that it's hard to know how many people avoid cross-border travel because of the cost and inconvenience of getting documents.

Parrin Beatty, president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, said the effect of border security measures has been cumulative.

"What you see is a series of new charges, new inspections, new delays, new forms that have to be filled out," Beatty said. "All of these taken together just make the border stickier, thicker and more costly. And that works very much against us."

The restrictions have offset the benefits achieved through trade agreements, he said. "What we've done now is to replace the savings that we made in tariffs with compliance costs and delays at the border. So we've lost a lot of the competitive advantage we've had with the rest of the world."

But U.S. border officials say new electronic passport readers, purchased as part of the $350 million travel initiative, should expedite international traffic.

The top 39 land border crossings -- through which pass 96 percent of the traffic -- are now equipped with electronic proximity readers, said Jayson Ahern, acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The radio-frequency identification cards enable border agents' computers to display information even before the car pulls up to the border booths.

That "will save time -- seconds," Ahern said. "When you take seconds and you multiply it times the millions of people that cross our borders, that adds up to real time and real efficiencies."

Ahern said the RFID chip and technology does not contain or transmit any personally identifiable information; it only sends a unique number. That ensures people's privacy, he said.

Beatty agrees that the travel document requirement could expedite travel. "If the technology is in place, if it's in people's hands, if it's working well, it can facilitate things. If, on the other hand, people don't have the documents, if the technology isn't working well, then we'll get bottlenecks that can cost tens and hundreds of millions of dollars and cost people their jobs."

What will happen to U.S. citizens who attempt to re-enter the country without proper travel documents?

"At the end of the day, the U.S. Constitution trumps all these requirements," said Hubbard, of the Detroit Chamber. "If you're a U.S. citizen, they're going to let you in. That's the little secret they really don't want you to know. Because if you're an American citizen, there may be a hassle at the border for the couple hours, but they're going to be letting you in."

Ahern acknowledges that U.S. citizens can't and won't be kept out of the country.

"Certainly, a bona fide U.S. citizen can not be denied entry back into their own country. But we may need to spend additional time to verify that that person is a bona fide U.S. citizen," he said.

"Each case will stand on its own set of facts. It will be a determination by our officers, who have been trained and prepared for this. Keep in mind, they've been dealing with this for a number of years."

This article is courtesy of CNN.