Tuesday, June 26, 2007

International Herald Tribune Editorial - Where are the passports?

International Herald Tribune Editorial - Where are the passports?
Copyright by The International Herald Tribune
Published: June 25, 2007

This week, Hillary Clinton chose a song by a Canadian, Celine Dion, as the theme for her American presidential bid. Ordinary citizens passing back and forth between the two countries are no longer permitted such an easy blurring of national lines.

Since January, Americans have been required to present a passport when flying home from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the rest of the Caribbean - an inconvenient but sensible security requirement. The State Department, which screens passport applications, had two years to prepare, but clearly didn't prepare well enough. The normal six-week wait has nearly doubled to an average of 10 to 12 weeks. There are nearly 3 million applications pending.

The department blames the delays on the eagerness of Americans to prepare for the new rules by applying to obtain passports even when they had no imminent travel plans. In other words, ordinary citizens were so responsible that they caught the State Department off-guard.

Such good citizenship also doesn't come cheap. Standard processing fees for an adult are $97. Expediting the application runs an extra $60 per person and, even with the hefty rush charge, it still takes two to three weeks.

Of course, if you have an extra $100, $200, $300 even $400 to pay a commercial expediting service, you can have your passport in a few days. Conceived of largely as an option for business clients, these companies are being rushed by desperate travelers.

This week, the Department of Homeland Security announced that beginning in January, American citizens returning home by land or sea from these neighboring countries will no longer be able to make an oral declaration of citizenship. They will have to provide proof of identity and citizenship, but for the time being it will not have to be a passport. We hope the State Department uses this delay to get on top of their new workload - and find our passports.


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