Feds to Suspend Border Passport Rule
Thursday, June 7, 2007; 9:17 PM
WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration is poised to suspend a major post-9/11 security initiative to cope with increasingly angry complaints from Americans whose summer vacations are threatened by new passport rules.
A proposal, expected to be announced Friday, will temporarily waive a requirement that U.S. citizens have passports to fly to and from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda, provided the traveler can prove he or she has already applied for a passport, officials said Thursday.
The temporary lifting of the passport rule is aimed at clearing a massive backlog of passport applications at the State Department that has slowed processing to a crawl, they said. Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., said the suspension would last until the end of September.
The plan had run into opposition from the Homeland Security Department, which controls U.S. border points and fears the move could make it easier for terrorists or other undesirables to enter the country, the officials said.
Instead of a passport, travelers will now be able to present a State Department receipt showing their passport application is being processed, and a government-issued ID such as a driver's license.
Homeland Security signed off on the proposal on Thursday after consultations with the State Department, the White House and members of Congress, who have been deluged with complaints from furious constituents, according to four officials at the agencies involved.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the decision has not yet been announced.
A Homeland Security spokesman declined to comment.
Under the plan, those without passports would receive additional security scrutiny when they travel, which could include extra questioning or bag checks, according to one official familiar with the discussions.
The suspension will give the State Department time to deal with a surge in applications that has overwhelmed its processing centers since the new rules took effect earlier this year.
The backlog has caused up to three-month delays in issuing passports and ruined or delayed the travel plans of untold thousands of Americans.
Frustrated lawmakers besieged with constituent complaints have demanded relief.