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State Department Tightens U.S. Entry Rules

The new rules, slated to go into effect by 2008, affect those countries where Americans returning home currently only need to show a driver’s license or other government-issued photo identification card.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the changes came about after consultation with Mexico, Canada and other nations in the Western Hemisphere, and were necessary to screen out “people who want to come in to hurt us.”

As part of an intelligence bill approved last year, Congress directed the secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the State Department, to implement a plan to require U.S. citizens and foreign nationals to present a passport or other secure documents when entering the United States.

“We recognize the implications this might have for industry, business and the general public, as well as our neighboring countries, and they are important partners in this initiative,” Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Maura Harty said in a written statement.

The departments of Homeland Security and State plan to roll out the initiative in phases, providing advanced notice to the affected public so that people may acquire the necessary documents, according to a statement on the State Department’s Web site.

Although the passport will be the document of choice for entry or re-entry into the United States, by Jan. 1, 2008, the Border Crossing Card, or “laser visa,” will likely be acceptable as well, the statement said. The BCC is currently used in lieu of a passport or visa by citizens of Mexico traveling to the United States from contiguous territory.

Other acceptable documents for Mexicans and Canadians wishing to enter the United States will likely include the Customs and Border Protection Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection, or SENTRI, and the NEXUS and Free and Secure Trade program cards, the State Department said.

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