Traveling documents see change

Published 5:40 am Monday, February 25, 2008

By Staff
As the spring travel season is getting under way and you are starting to plan your summer vacation, it is important to remember that new travel requirements are now in effect for U.S. citizens returning from any part of the Western Hemisphere.
Beginning Feb. 1, 2008, all U.S. citizens returning to the United States by land and sea are now required to present proof of citizenship at U.S. ports of entry.
The new travel requirement, the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, was mandated by Congress in the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 to strengthen border security and facilitate entry into the United States for citizens and legitimate international visitors.
The requirements have been implemented in two phases. The first, which went into effect last year, requires all U.S. citizens, including children, traveling by air between the United States and Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Bermuda to present a valid passport, Air NEXUS card, or U.S. Coast Guard Merchant Mariner Document, or an Alien Registration Card, Form I-551, if applicable, in order to return to the United States.
The second phase, which was implemented earlier this month, requires ALL persons, including U.S. citizens, traveling between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Bermuda by land or sea (including ferries), to present a valid passport or a government-issued photo ID, such as a driver's license, plus proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate.
The new passport requirement does not apply to U.S. citizens traveling to or returning directly from a U.S. territory. U.S. citizens returning directly from a U.S. territory are not considered to have left the United States.
At a later date - which has not yet been determined - the full requirements of the land and sea phase will be implemented requiring U.S. citizens to present a U.S. passport; or U.S. passport card; or NEXUS card; or U.S. Coast Guard Merchant Mariner Document, or an Alien Registration Card, Form I-551, if applicable, in order to return to the United States via land or sea.
Complete information on how to apply for a passport is available at the Consular Affairs website, http://travel.state.gov.
Fortunately, it appears that the passport backlog at the State Department has been reduced. The State Department now reports that passport processing times are back to their normal range of four to six weeks. Keep in mind as travel season is getting underway, there is a higher demand for passports this time of year, and processing times may once again increase.
My office will continue to work diligently to help those of you who have applied for expedited passports, but it is important that you allow plenty of time, at least 10 to 12 weeks, in order to make the necessary arrangements so you won't have to delay that important business trip or well-deserved vacation.
My staff and I work for you.  If we can ever be of service, do not hesitate to call my office toll free at 1-800-288-8721.
Jo Bonner is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He may be reached through is Web site at bonner.house.gov.