I.D. requirements at U.S. – Canadian border to tighten on Jan. 31

I.D. requirements at U.S. – Canadian border to tighten on Jan. 31
Proof of citizenship will be more stringent
By Lou Michel – News Staff Reporter
Updated: 01/12/08 9:15 AM
Americans returning from Canada will have to have proof of citizenship, such as a passport or birth certificate, to reenter the country, starting Jan. 31.

Starting at the end of the month, Buffalo Niagara motorists returning from Canada will have to produce not only a driver’s license, but additional proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate or passport.

That’s because a controversial federal law known as the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative — enacted to strengthen U.S. borders in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks — scraps the simple oral declaration of citizenship and requires the citizenship documents for American and Canadian citizens.

But this summer, the process could become a little less complicated when enhanced driver’s licenses will be available to New York State drivers under a deal previously worked out by Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer and U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

Those licenses, a compromise to ensure the flow of cross-border commerce without a passport, also will be considered acceptable identification under the guidelines issued Friday for the REAL ID Act, another federal identification law that seeks to tighten security inside the United States beginning in 2011.

Eventually everyone will be required to have a government approved form of identification in order to board a domestic airplane flight or enter a federal building or a nuclear facility.

As for the enhanced license, details are still being worked out on when and what procedures Western New Yorkers will have to follow to get the more secure license.

At this point, all that is known is that enhanced licenses will become available sometime this summer.

Ken Brown, a spokesman for the state Department of Motor Vehicles in Albany, said the DMV and U.S. Department of Homeland Security are in the process of determining what types of personal identification papers drivers will have to produce for the special license.

If motorists decide against purchasing the enhanced license, which will include an extra charge yet to be determined, they will have to carry the extra citizenship papers with them when seeking re-entry into the United States from Canada.

Like passports and birth certificates, NEXUS cards, a fast pass for motorists using the area’s international crossings, also will be accepted as citizenship identification to return to the United States.

Children 18 and younger also will be required to present proof of citizenship.

“So now when you get a school bus load of fifth-graders traveling to Toronto to see the science center, everyone of them is going to have to have a birth certificate in their possession. And what are the chances of a child remembering to bring that back home? Slim to none,” said Erie County Clerk Kathleen C. Hochul.

And what will the impact be on someone wanting to make a quick trip to Fort Erie, Ont., for Chinese food?

“This kills spontaneity because you need to have your passport or birth certificate in your possession when you’re making the decision,” Hochul said. “People have no problem putting a driver’s license in their wallet. A passport or birth certificate is far more cumbersome.”

Federal officials, the county clerk said, should have waited a bit longer before doing away with the oral declaration of citizenship.

“I fully support increasing security at our borders, but the federal government got it backwards. The enhanced driver’s license should have been available first before ending oral declarations,” Hochul said.

And with delays becoming a more frequent part of the landscape at the region’s four international crossings because of Canadian shoppers and their strong currency, the question arises whether additional review of citizenship documents will make for even longer delays. The short answer is no.

“For the most part, we request documentation now. We have had the legal authority to ask for documentary proof of citizenship, and we will still be talking to everyone,” said Kevin A. Corsaro, supervisory officer of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Buffalo field office.

What if someone forgets to bring citizenship identification papers?

“It’s an educational process. We will briefly explain to them how to be compliant and give them a tearsheet on compliance, and they will be able to proceed with their trip,” Corsaro said. He explained that the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative leaves room for this learning curve before it is fully implemented in June 2009.

Customs and Border Protection officers, he said, understand the necessity to “facilitate legitimate trade and travel.” But he added there are physical limitations because the international bridges can handle only so much traffic at any given time.



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