A U.S. law requiring Canadians to show proof of citizenship when crossing the border by land or sea takes effect Thursday, but to appease some politicians, American customs officials say it won't be enforced for at least another 18 months.
For months, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security had said that as of Thursday, Canadian and U.S. citizens entering the United States by land and sea would have to show ID, such as a passport, or birth certificate combined with photo ID, proving their nationality, under rules adopted in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
A passport or special travel card will be required for all trips to the U.S. starting in June 2009, but for now, Canadians entering by land or sea can get in without any proof of citizenship.
(Tom Hanson/Canadian Press)
Air travellers have had to show proof of citizenship since January 2007.
But U.S. border officials now say travellers without proper documentation will be allowed into the U.S. until June 2009, and will receive an educational flyer instead of being turned away.
"What we will do is briefly explain to them that they're not in compliance," said Kevin Corsaro, a supervisory officer in the Buffalo, N.Y., field office of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
"We'll give them a tear sheet that explains how to become compliant, and they'll be able to proceed on with their trip.
"This is an educational process," said Corsaro. "We will not refuse a Canadian citizen entry into this country, into the United States, if their only violation is that they do not have proof of citizenship."
Asking for reprieve
The move to relax ID requirements comes after a group of 19 U.S. senators wrote Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.
Their letter asks Chertoff to continue the system of allowing Canadians and Americans to cross land and sea borders by presenting any government-issued photo ID, such as a driver's licence, and making an oral declaration of citizenship.
The senators — led by Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Ted Stevens of Alaska and Charles Schumer of New York — said Homeland Security should hold off on any changes until June 2009, when the U.S. Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative goes into full effect and passports will be required to cross all U.S. borders.
"We have the longest, most peaceful, friendliest border in the world. We gotta be cherishing that instead of trying to make that border look like a security threat," Leahy told CBC News.
"These new ideas are not going to make either Canada or the United States more secure. We will end up losing hundreds of billions of dollars worth of jobs."
More than 800,000 people enter the U.S. through land and sea ports each day. Between October and December, agents say, they caught more than 1,500 people making false oral declarations.