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Border checkpoints brace for new rules for reentering U.S.

Times Staff Writer

Federal authorities are about to start implementing new requirements for U.S. citizens returning from Mexico, and the changeover is likely to cause confusion and long waits at border crossings.

Under the system, to be launched Thursday, U.S. citizens will be required to present both proof of identity and proof of citizenship. In the past, they usually could just show their driver’s licenses and make oral declarations of citizenship.

Citizens without the proper identification won’t be denied reentry, federal officials said, but they should expect delays as inspectors ask more questions to verify their identities and try to educate them about the new rules.

This week marks the start of a transition period before full implementation of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, mandated by Congress, which seeks to standardize entry requirements for all land and sea ports by 2009.

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Vincent Bond, a spokesman for Customs and Border Protection, said people without proper documentation will be referred immediately to secondary inspection areas to prevent long waits.

“We’re not going to deny entry to U.S. citizens,” Bond said. “We will urge them to have one of those documents the next time they reenter the U.S. . . . We’re going to make sure that people are aware of the new law.”

The new rules are expected to create headaches for regular commuters at the San Ysidro Port of Entry, California’s busiest border crossing, where about 120,000 people cross daily. About 30,000 are U.S. citizens who will be affected by the rules, according to a survey by the Cross Border Group, a San Diego-based market research and consulting firm.

Kenn Morris, the firm’s president, said the system, in the short term, is likely to hurt Baja California’s tourism industry.

Many people, he said, will be put off by longer border waits and confusion about which documents they need to reenter the country.

Under the new system, citizens will have two options. They can present one document that proves both identity and citizenship, such as a passport; U.S. military identification; or a government-issued Trusted Traveler Card such as the SENTRI pass.

Alternatively, they can present a driver’s license and proof of citizenship, which can take the form of a birth certificate or certificate of naturalization. Photocopies of birth certificates will be accepted, Bond said.

For more details about proper documentation, travelers can consult the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website at www.cbp.gov.

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richard.marosi@latimes.com


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