WASHINGTON—President Bush expressed dismay Thursday over plans to require American, Canadian and Mexican citizens to show passports to enter the United States—a requirement of an intelligence reform bill he signed late last year—saying it could "disrupt the honest flow of traffic."
Speaking to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, Bush said he's instructed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the Department of Homeland Security to review the plan to see if there's any way to lessen the impact.
"When I first read that in the newspaper, about the need to have passports, for particularly the day crossings that take place—about a million, for example in the state of Texas—I said, `What's going on here?'" Bush said. "I thought there was a better way to ... expedite the legal flow of traffic and people."
Bush said he asked Rice and homeland security officials about using fingerprint imaging "to serve as a so-called passport for daily traffic."
In calling for flexibility, Bush is looking to change part of the sweeping intelligence overhaul bill that Congress passed and he signed last December. The law is largely based on recommendations from the commission that studied security failures leading to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The law ordered the Homeland Security department to require U.S. citizens and foreign nationals to show a passport or an appropriate security identity card or document proving citizenship when re-entering the United States. The same would apply for citizens from Canada, Mexico and Bermuda visiting the United States.
Currently, U.S. citizens can re-enter the country from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, Panama and Bermuda simply by showing a driver's license.
The new passport rules would be phased in, beginning with air and sea travel from the Caribbean, Bermuda and Central America on Dec. 31, 2005. The passport requirement for air and sea travel from Canada and Mexico would start Dec. 31, 2006, and would extend to land border crossings a year later.
But the changes aren't set in stone. The law contains a 60-day period for public comment before the passport requirement can go into effect. Potential changes would be based on the comments, State Department officials said.
Bush's comments were welcomed by Canadian officials, who have expressed fears that the requirements would slow highway traffic across the border and hurt commerce. Canada is the United States' largest trading partner.
"I have the encouragement and support of both the prime minister (Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin) and the president in terms of sitting down and making sure that, yes, identity documents are secure and that we're doing everything we can to ensure the security of our borders, but, at the same time ... we're facilitating the movement of people," said Canadian Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan said Thursday.
(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
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