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02/08/2008

Congress Seeks Passport Rule Delay


Congress is seeking to delay a new security rule requiring passports at all U.S. border crossings next year in hopes of avoiding a repeat of last summer's vacation-killing backlog of passport applications.

The Bush administration said Monday it opposed the measure and still plans to go forward with implementing the planned passport rule next summer.

Lawmakers said Monday that under a major end-of-the-year spending bill to be voted on this week, the border passport rule would be moved back even further, to no earlier than June 1, 2009.

The first phase of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, or WHTI, went into effect earlier this year, requiring U.S. travelers returning by plane from Mexico, Canada and the Caribbean to carry a passport. As a result of the new requirements, demand for passports soared and the State Department issued a record 18.4 million passports in fiscal year 2007, compared to 12.1 million in 2006.

As a result, wait times for passports ballooned from four to six weeks to 12 weeks, but they have since returned to normal.

Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., said the government should have more time to implement the law, and ''do it in a way that won't cause the same passport headaches we saw with the air travel requirement earlier this year.''

In border states like Coleman's, the new laws have also raised concerns that local trade and tourism will suffer. In response, the State Department plans to create passcards which will cost less than half the nearly $100 charged for a new passport.

Department of Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke said the agency opposes the measure but doesn't believe it will actually stop their implementation plan for the border passport rule.

''A delay in WHTI implementation would create the very type of chaos at the border that Congress has repeatedly urged our department to avoid,'' Knocke said.

WHTI was passed by Congress as part of a 2004 intelligence reform bill.

Read more: http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/us/AP-Passports.html?_r=1&oref=slogin


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