New passport rules in effect

June 1, 2009 9:54:20 PM PDT
Car and pedestrian traffic flowed smoothy through U.S. border crossings Monday, the first day that Americans coming home from Mexico and Canada faced stricter identification requirements, officials and travelers said. About 10 cars, typical for a morning commute, were backed up on the Hidalgo-Reynosa International Bridge near McAllen, Texas, early Monday on the first day of full compliance with the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative.

Until now, U.S. citizens could re-enter the country with various types of identification. Now a passport, passport card or special secure driver's license are among a handful of accepted IDs.

Yvonne Rivera, a U.S. citizen who lives in Reynosa, Mexico and commutes across the border for work in Texas, said she got her passport three months ago because she knew the rule change was coming. The 22-year-old pedestrian breezed through the crossing.

"There was nothing. Everything is all right," Rivera said.

At the busiest passenger crossing along the northern border, the Peace Bridge between Buffalo and Fort Erie, Ontario, traffic flowed smoothly with Customs and Border Protection officers reporting a 95 percent compliance rate with the new ID requirement.

Leslie Dritsas of Apache Junction, Ariz., didn't know about the change but had her passport anyway. She got hers a couple of years ago after having a bad experience entering the U.S. even though she had her driver's license, birth certificate and Social Security card.

"They didn't believe I was an American citizen. It was horrible. This time with the passport, it was much easier, so I'm for it," said Dritsas, whose husband is a Canadian citizen.

The new requirement also did not cause any delays at Highgate Springs, Vermont's largest entry point from Canada. Two lanes were open and there was hardly any wait.

Daphnee Roy, 23, of Montreal, who was driving to Boston with a friend, said after passing through that the crossing was same as always.

"It's no big deal."

U.S. Customs and Border Protection area port director John Makolin says people who don't have the right documents can still enter, but it'll take a lot longer than usual to get through, as Customs workers try to verify their identities some other way.

That wasn't Mauro Guerra's experience when the 27-year-old U.S. citizen crossed the border on his way to work at an auto parts store in McAllen, Texas. He said he hadn't had time to get a passport but got through the same way he always has: with a birth certificate and photo ID.

"They didn't say anything," Guerra said.