Plans requiring passports from people entering the United States don’t pass muster with President Bush, who has ordered a review of this border security effort amid fears it would impede legal travel from Canada, Mexico and other U.S. neighbors.

Concerns were raised in Maine last week after the announcement from the State and Homeland Security departments. Canada is Maine’s biggest export market and its visitors the biggest international chunk of Maine’s multibillion-dollar tourism trade. More than 5.1 million people came from Canada through Maine border crossings last year.

The president said he was surprised by the proposed rules.

“When I first read that in the newspaper about the need to have passports, particularly today’s crossings that take place, about a million for instance in the state of Texas, I said, ‘What’s going on here?'” Bush said when asked about the rules at a meeting of the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

“I thought there was a better way to expedite the legal flow of traffic and people,” he said.

Bush, a former Texas governor, said he has ordered a review of the rules. “If people have to have a passport, it’s going to disrupt the honest flow of traffic. I think there’s some flexibility in the law, and that’s what we’re checking out right now,” the president said.

On Friday, Joyce L. White, who manages Pépin’s convenience store in Coburn Gore, Maine, was pleased by the new message.

She could imagine people in Quebec who haven’t paid attention to American news finding themselves in a tight spot, like needing to travel to Maine for a funeral, and not realizing they must have a passport.

“The U.S. has the idea when they say it, everybody listens,” said White, a United States citizen living just across the border in Canada.

“In three years, it’s going to be a bottleneck if they don’t stay on top of it,” she added.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said in a statement that she was pleased the president would be carefully considering the proposal.

“I agree with the president that we must examine ways to expedite the legal flow of travel between our borders,” she said.

Sen. Olympia Snowe added her thoughts as well.

“I am hopeful we will be able to work together to ensure that border communities in Maine are not unfairly burdened by these new travel guidelines,” she said in a release.

The basis of the passport proposal was an intelligence overhaul bill, which Bush signed into law in December, requiring tighter border security against terrorists. The White House did not say why the president was unaware of the plans, which his administration announced a week ago.

The proposed guidelines would require passports or a select number of other secure documents from anyone including Americans entering the United States from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, the Caribbean and Panama. The rules were scheduled to become final this fall after a public comment period, and to be phased in by 2008.

Currently, Americans generally need to show a driver’s license or other government-issued photo identification to cross the border from Canada. Customs officials usually require more proof from Americans returning from the other countries.

The plans have caused a stir in Canada, where the government announced it might follow suit and impose similar rules against the United States. Canada is the largest U.S. trading partner, with $1.2 billion worth of goods crossing the border daily. Nearly 16 million Canadians entered the United States last year.

Canada’s public safety minister, Anne McLellan, told reporters in Ottawa that Bush’s comments signal his support for negotiations between the two countries about “accepted forms of ID.”

People entering the United States from Mexico could continue to use a border crossing card, or SENTRI, card, which can be obtained after background checks and other security measures. From the Canadian border, a NEXUS card for approved low-risk travelers, and a FAST card for commercial workers, would be accepted.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.