LAX easily shifts to new passport policy

Times Staff Writer

The long lines snaking around passport agencies over the last few weeks apparently paid off at airports Tuesday.

Airline and immigration officials reported a smooth transition on the first day of a new policy requiring passports or permanent resident cards from all passengers traveling to and from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda. Nearly all arriving passengers had the required documents.

Previously, people traveling between the U.S. and those areas were required to show only a birth certificate and a government-issued photo identification, such as a driver’s license.

But a 2004 law required the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the State Department to implement the tougher identification requirements to bolster security and smooth entry into the U.S. Passports can be scanned for instant verification, whereas other documents are tougher to substantiate.


But immigration officials didn’t turn away U.S. citizens who showed up empty-handed. Returning U.S. passengers without passports were handed a flier about the new rules along with a U.S. passport application for future travel abroad, as officials ease in the new rules.

“The majority of passengers are U.S. citizens, and we won’t give them give a hard time if they’re coming back to the States,” said Roxanne Hercules, a spokeswoman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, part of the Homeland Security agency. Hercules said the new requirements will be eased in over the next 30 to 60 days -- a period of what she termed “informed consent.”

“After that,” she said, “it will be ‘enforced compliance,’ meaning you’ll need your passport.”

Foreign nationals and permanent residents who do not have passports with them will be screened more thoroughly “to make sure their intention is for business or vacation and not to harm anybody here.... That’s what we do every day.”


Cristina Gamez, chief inspector for the Customs and Border Protection agency at Los Angeles International Airport, said the first day of the new policy went more smoothly than expected. Lines were no longer than usual as passengers filed through passport control at LAX, one of the busiest airports in the world. By 2 p.m. about 19,600 passengers from 115 flights had been ushered through immigration and customs.

Many airlines apparently had advised their passengers for weeks that passports would be checked at the ticket counter and those without them would not be allowed to board. There were reports of canceled reservations on Mexican airlines by those who didn’t have the proper documents.

Gamez said that 85% to 95% of international travelers at LAX used their passports before the new law went into effect.

Those traveling by land or sea between the U.S. and Mexico, Canada and the Caribbean will not have to have passports until “as early as Jan. 1, 2008.”


Over the last few weeks, there were long lines at passport issuing agencies in anticipation of the regulations.