New rules bring new reality at the border
Traffic was moving quickly and the line was short at the Canadian border crossing here Monday, the first day passports were required for entry into the U.S.
It appeared nearly everyone trying to enter the U.S. via Minnesota's four major crossings was aware of the new regulation, said Marty Eide, area port director.
"We're at about 5 percent noncompliance across Warroad, Baudette, International Falls and Grand Portage," Eide said at midday Monday. "It's going very well.''
The same report came from other U.S. border crossings into Canada and Mexico.
The passport requirement is a post-Sept. 11 rule years in the making and delayed twice by Congress, aimed at curbing the illegal entry of suspicious people. The regulation gives faster access to more information about everyone crossing the border, officials said.
But it has brought grumbles from anglers and others, including Falls and Fort Frances residents, who in years past never needed more than a driver's license to make a short jaunt into the neighboring country.
Susan Olson and Carla Thomasson of International Falls took a quick shopping trip across the Rainy River into Fort Frances and back Monday. But they were prepared, having applied for their U.S. passport cards months in advance.
"We like to go over now and then,'' Olson said. "And my son has a cabin in Canada, so we had to get these if we wanted to keep going up there.''
Lines at this port of entry were shorter than usual, Eide noted, as it appeared some Americans without passports may have rushed in their annual fishing trip to Canada, and some Canadians a last shopping trip to the U.S., before the new rule took effect.
There was no real need to rush, however. Border agents have been granted leeway to allow both U.S. and Canadian citizens into the U.S. even without a passport if they can prove their residency, at least for now.
"We're not throwing anyone in jail because they don't have a passport. We're not turning anyone away,'' Eide said.
"It might make your stop here a little longer if you don't have the proper ID. But, for the time being, we will let you in.''
It's unclear when the new rule will be strictly enforced, but anyone who crosses more than once or twice without a passport may face longer delays, said Tom Schreiber, public affairs liaison for U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Mark Bysfield, a U.S. State Department liaison with the U.S. Embassy in Canada, was trying to soothe concerns among Canadians who say the rule will cut into U.S. tourism north of the border.
"There are complaints that people are staying away because of this, not coming into Canada,'' Bysfield said. "But we really think that's much more to do with the economy and not this regulation."
The International Falls Port of Entry handles about 700,000 vehicles and more than 1 million people crossing each year.
What you need to know
Passports cost $100, and passport cards are just $45. But passport cards are not valid for air travel or most sea travel. It takes about three or four weeks to get a passport or passport card. You can pay a private firm to expedite the process. Children through age 15 can cross into the U.S. with a certified birth certificate.
In addition to a passport or passport card, other options for entering the U.S. by car are:
# Trusted Traveler Cards (NEXUS, SENTRI, or FAST.)
# State-issued Enhanced Driver's License (Minnesota and Wisconsin do not offer these yet.)
# Enhanced Tribal Cards (where available.)
# U.S. Military Identification with Military Travel Orders.
# U.S. Merchant Mariner Document when traveling in conjunction with official maritime business.
# Native American Tribal Photo Identification Card.
# Form I-872 American Indian Card.
For more information go to www.getyouhome.gov.