Passport rule may not kick in until ‘09

MONTPELIER, Vt. — Passports won’t be necessary for Americans and Canadians entering the United States by land until mid-2009 — a year later than planned — if a budget bill passed Thursday by Congress gets the approval of President Bush.

A provision of a budget bill passed Thursday pushes back by a year the plan by the Department of Homeland Security to require passports from border-crossers from Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean as a way of strengthening national security.

U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont, said he expects President Bush to sign the bill, despite the administration’s insistence on implementing the passport requirement next summer.

The passport requirement has been a sore point in Washington and other border states.

Last summer, Leahy and U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska introduced the legislation to delay the passport requirement. The legislation cleared Congress on Thursday as part of a multi-agency budget bill.

“The passport requirement is the wrong answer to the wrong question. It creates major hassles for law-abiding citizens and communities all across the longest peaceful border in the world,” Leahy said in a statement.

The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, as the plan is known, is designed to close a major security vulnerability on the nation’s borders, said Homeland Security spokeswoman Amy Kudwa.

Even though the passport requirement is likely to be postponed, people will still need birth certificates or similar identification to enter the United States by land beginning Jan. 31.

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