HIGHGATE SPRINGS, Vt. (AP) – A rule change that will force people to provide more documentation when entering the United States by land from Canada will be a major cultural shift for those who live along the border, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection executive said Thursday.

Robert Jacksta, deputy assistant commissioner in the Office of Field Operations, said the change is necessary to tighten border security but that people will adjust to the new requirements.

Most truckers and commercial vehicle operators who cross the border regularly should already have the documentation they’ll need to cross the border, he said.

“It’s really going to be a major change for families and people who come back and forth across the border,” said Jacksta, speaking at the Highgate Springs port of entry.

“We recognize that this is a big challenge,” Jacksta said. “We recognize that this is a cultural change. Over the last 200 years, people have come across the border and just been able to state that they were a U.S. citizen or a Canadian. We believe that the time has changed.”

Currently, U.S. and Canadian citizens entering the country by land can show an ID – such as a driver’s license – and tell the agent their nationality.

Starting Jan. 31, they will be required to show a document such as a passport, a passport card or a driver’s license and proof of citizenship – such as a birth certificate. People 18 and younger will just need proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate.

It’s part of a plan by the Department of Homeland Security – of which Customs and Border Protection is a part – to enhance security along the nation’s borders as well as at airports and seaports.

“In our post-9/11 world, oral declarations are simply not enough to ensure the security of this country. U.S. and Canadian citizens must recognize the real and ever present threat of another terrorist attack on American soil,” Jacksta said.

“Anyone from drug and human traffickers to homicide suspects to potential terrorists can show up at our border and simply tell us they are a U.S. citizen or a Canadian and be allowed to enter,” said Jacksta, who flew into the port at the northern edge of Interstate 89 on a CBP helicopter, after attending a similar news conference in Buffalo, N.Y.

Another event is planned for Friday in Portland, Maine, part of a nationwide effort to publicize the impending change, which is already ruffling feathers in Vermont.

“They are putting mindless macho over meaningful security,” said U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. “There is enormous downside and very little upside to the new hoops they want to put everyone through on the Canadian border.”

Business leaders worry the changes will cause backups at the border, discouraging Canadians from coming to the United States.

Brian Searles, director of aviation at Burlington International Airport, said 35 percent of the the airport’s passengers come from Canada. Even slight delays at the border could keep them home.

“Plans by the United States Department of Homeland Security to make it more difficult for our friends from Canada to get to Burlington airport is bad for them, it’s bad for the airport, it’s bad for Vermont businesses and it’s bad for Vermont travelers,” Searles said.

Jacksta said he thought the program would work smoothly and it wouldn’t hurt cross-border trade.

“We feel very strongly that this is not going to inhibit trade or travel,” Jacksta said. “This is a requirement that people have certain documentation when people cross the border. There’s no reason why trade should slow down.”

Jacksta said that in the early stages, people trying to enter the United States without the required documentation won’t be turned away. Rather, the border agent will be allowed to admit that person after proving through other means the nationality of the individual.

It’s unclear how long the agents will have that leeway.

Starting in mid-2009, U.S. citizens and Canadians will be required to have passports, or other documentation, such as passport cards or enhanced drivers’ licenses to enter the country.

The additional requirements are a first step toward phasing in that requirement.

“This is the first step. It is not the perfect state,” Jacksta said. “The perfect state is when we move down the road of the final implementation of the Western Hemisphere Trade Initiative.”

AP-ES-01-24-08 1913EST

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