No traffic impacts as new border regulations eased in

Published on Thu, Feb 7, 2008 by Meg Olson

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No traffic impacts as new border regulations eased in

By Meg Olson

The impact of new identification requirements was hardly felt as thousands of travelers crossed the border into the U.S. last weekend and only a handful had to stop because of questions about their documentation.

The bar has been set low to keep traffic moving: the penalty for not having proof of identity and citizenship is, in most cases, a handout.

“This is an educational period,” said U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) public affairs officer Michael Milne. “It is a requirement but we’re not yet strictly enforcing it.”

As of January 31 CBP began implementing what Milne described as a first step to more stringent rules that could be implemented by next summer as part of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI).

Where previously an oral declaration of citizenship and proof of identity was enough to cross the border, CBP now requires, in policy at least, proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate or passport.

Under WHTI, a passport or one of several new secure documents, such as a NEXUS card or enhanced drivers license, will be required.

CBP chose a soft introduction to avoid an impact of traffic flow many critics of WHTI have expressed concern over.

“We didn’t want to jam up secondary,” Milne said.

Only those with no identification or suspect documents were sent to secondary inspection – anyone else who didn’t have proof of citizenship was given an informational sheet about the new rules and WHTI.

Milne said he did not know of a timeline to tighten compliance on the new document rules, but that they would be heading in that direction.

“We want people to know this is only an interim,” he said.

“Anecdotally all reports are that especially on the Canadian border compliance has been very high,” Milne said.

Ken Oplinger, a Blaine resident and president of the Bellingham Chamber of Commerce has been active in lobbying efforts to get tighter identification requirements delayed until there has been sufficient time and public education to lessen the impact on travelers and local economies. “

Why scare the hell out of us?” he said of the CBP decision not to enforce the new rules yet, after several months publicizing the change.

“Either they planned this wrong or efforts to get them to back off did just that.”