Seventy Percent of Americans Can't Leave the Country

Do you feel safer today? Let's hope so, since you're certainly less free to travel about the Northern Hemisphere. Beginning just after midnight, every American returning from Canada, Mexico, and various island paradises now have to flash a U.S. passport to get back in the country. For the 70 percent of citizens who don't have passports, that means a minimum four to six weeks waiting time (and probably more, given the new filing rush) to legally escape the national boundaries. Better hope you weren't birthed by a midwife and have a funny-sounding surname!

No one informed Betancourt that his American citizenship was in question before – not in all the presidential elections he's voted in, not when he served in the Marines and not when he first became an emergency medical technician a decade ago. His father, a U.S. citizen, also served in the Marines.

"It's like a slap in the face," Betancourt said. "It doesn't change the way I feel or act, but I'm trying to do something as American as apple pie and go on vacation, and it feels like I've got the rug pulled out from under me."

Well, at least our country's top political leaders are totally aware of this grimly important trade of liberty for security.

Bill Clinton and George W. Bush admitted yesterday they had no idea the U.S. was implementing a new rule Monday that would require Canadians and Americans to have passports to cross the border.

The former presidents were caught off guard during a 90-minute joint appearance in Toronto when moderator Frank McKenna, the former Canadian ambassador to the U.S., spoke about how Canadians feel slighted by the new rule.

"I'll be frank with you Frank, I don't know about the passport issue," Bush told the crowd of 6,000.

"I thought we were making good progress on using a driver's licence to cross the border. What happened to the E-Z card?"

Clinton said he'd only heard about the passport requirement a day earlier, adding that in all likelihood most Americans were completely unaware of it as well. [...]

"I promise you, you have got my attention with this, so I'm going back home I'll see if there is anything else I can do," he said to cheers from the audience.

Yet another indication that our previous two presidents would have been better off reading Reason.

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  • ||

    Score another one for the "papers, please" society.

  • Tomcat1066||

    Next, we'll need a passport to go from one state to another, then from one town to another, until we can't even pull up our pants without someone wanting to see our passport or some other stupid document.

    Of course, what's really pathetic is that this won't even accomplish it's stated goal. Terrorists will just find another way in.

  • Abdul||

    Did either Bush or Clinton ask the Canadians: "What's with this horseshit metric system? Don't you use miles and gallons like normal people?"

  • ..||

    I can't leave my county?

  • MNG||

    70% of Americans live in border counties?

  • !</a||

    I can't leave my county?

    I think that was headline writer humor.

  • Tomcat1066||

    Not necessarily, but since 70% of Americans don't have passports, we are stuck within these borders if we hope to ever come home.

  • ||

    The right to travel is one of the basic, fundamental rights in our panopoly of rights. It is an inalienable right not subject to judcially concocted anti-constitutional balancing tests where the right to travel is weighed against some anti-constitutional (read: communist) principle such as "the public interest" or "national security".

  • hmm||

    Who wants to bet that 4-6 weeks becomes 6-10 months? Ah the joys of bureaucracy, stupid legislation, and unintended consequences.

  • hmm||

    Who knows what this legislation is based on or in? Is it Drug War, DHS terrorist BS, NAFTA (don't think it's NAFTA), or something entirely off the fucking wall?

    Where did this great idea originate?

  • !</a||

    The Pelosi cougar bot is being replaced by a passport sugarbaby bot?

  • Xeones||

    Yet another indication that our previous two presidents would have been better off reading Reason.

    The country might have been a lot better off, that's for sure.

    Then again, Mike Gravel is a subscriber, right?

  • Matt Welch||

    70% of Americans live in border counties?

    No, 70% of Americans don't have passports, as indicated in the text and the link. And as of today, there are no longer countries from which Americans can return without showing a passport.

  • Jozef||

    And remember, citizens: even if you travel abroad without a passport and then can't return, you will still be required to pay taxes to your motherland...

  • MNG||

    You can still go from county to county without a passport, so pretty much all Americans should be able to leave their county.

  • MNG||

    Oh, you fixed it. It said county instead of country at firsst.

  • ||

    Score another one for the "papers, please" society.

    You know the government is fucking up royally when I have to say "I agree with libertymike". This is all about control of the populace and has not a goddamed thing to do with national security.

    Fortunately the Democratss who are so much better on personal liberty issues (or so I've heard) control the presidency, the house and the senate. This should be overturned shortly.

    Blue teamers, your thoughts?

  • ||

    So, what happens if you leave the country, and try to come back without a passport? Do they deport you to wherever you just came from?

    I would like to see this litigated. I can find no authority in the constitution for any state or the federal government to prevent a citizen from entering the country, just because the bureaucracy doesn't like his paperwork.

    -jcr

  • ||

    I need a passport to to take the shortest route out of the city.

    Windsor, Ontario is closer to my apartment than any other other city, county or state. As a youth, the schools took me on field trips to sites in Ontario. When the family took a weekend jaunt to Niagara Falls, the shortest route was through Ontario.

  • Matt Welch||

    Oh, you fixed it. It said county instead of country at firsst.

    Sorry, MNG, my bad.

  • VM||

    they've made me show a passport coming into the us for several years already.

  • ||

    VM,

    Can't you just say "I'm not swarthy, just well-tanned?"

  • kinnath||

    This has been coming for a year or two now, right?

    I've had a passport for going on 20 years now and have made 50 or so international trips. I don't exactly see the problem here. Do people really expect to cross international boundaries without identification?

  • ||

    J sub D, it pisses me off that you now are going to be hassled just to get around in your everyday life. Ditto, I am sure, for many others in your neck of the woods.

  • ||

    they've made me show a passport coming into the us for several years already.



    Yes, But Canada, Mexico and the Bahamas have always been except from that requirement. Even though proof of citizenship has always been required, your verbal statement was usuallt considered sufficient.

  • kinnath||

    I have no problem with the national government requiring that US citizens display indentification issued by the national government when entering the country.

    This is fundamentally different than the national government imposing national standards on the states regarding the issuance of driver's licenses.

  • ||

    Oh, there may be other places I missed above. But those are the ones I could think of.

    Do people really expect to cross international boundaries without identification?




    They don't expect to have to have passports to visit the country "next door".

    As I said above, you always needed proof that you were a citizen. A passport adds another level of needless bureaucratic complication.

    I'm really surprised this was passed with so little protest. I would have thought that merchants in border towns and tourist operators would have been screaming like stuck pigs.

  • ||


    "I'll be frank with you Frank, I don't know about the passport issue," Bush told the crowd of 6,000.

    "I thought we were making good progress on using a driver's licence to cross the border. What happened to the E-Z card?"



    This issue has been raised at every single meeting between the Prime Minister and the US President since the DHS floated it in 2003. It has also repeatedly been raised at cabinet-level meetings. Can someone tell me what the differnce is between GWB's level of consciousness and that of an eggplant?

  • Colin||

    I read that they'll still let you through without a passport, but it'll be much more difficult -- as they'll have to perform a background check.

  • Matt Welch||

    Do people really expect to cross international boundaries without identification?

    If they live in Europe, yes.

  • ||

    GWB's level of consciousness and that of an eggplant?

    One makes for great Baba ghanoush and the other is just "meh" Baba ghanoush.

    Were the people coming back with just a driver's license being noted in the giant identity database? Passports make a notice of when you come and go, were DLs? Is this mostly a drug war move?

  • ||

    Ihre Papiere, bitte.

    It's my God-given right to drive into Canada and back again without all this nonsense. I understand the body cavity searches for people coming back from Mexico somewhat, but Canada? It's practically a giant Minnesota! Can I go to Minnesota without a passport?

  • kinnath||

    If they live in Europe, yes.

    Yes, Matt, but not relevant since we do not have the equivalent to the EU in North America.

    I was travelling to Europe before the EU dropped the passport requirements for EU citizens. So I have gotten to watch the walls come down over the last decade or so.

  • ||

    I understand the body cavity searches for people coming back from Mexico somewhat, but Canada?

    Codeine pain pills. Imagine the chaos if anyone in the US could receive adequate pain relief.

  • ||


    Is this mostly a drug war move?



    No it's part of the "War on Terror". Because Canada is a safe haven for terrorists who want to kill Americans, you know.

    (Last time I checked, the score was still 2-0 in favor of the US.)

  • Rhywun||

    Do people really expect to cross international boundaries without identification?

    They do if they live near the US/Canada border, as I did for 25 years. I knew people who lived in one country and worked in the other. The economies are completely intertwined. To them, it might as well be a "county"-level papers-please.

  • Imperialist||

    They do if they live near the US/Canada border, as I did for 25 years. I knew people who lived in one country and worked in the other. The economies are completely intertwined. To them, it might as well be a "county"-level papers-please.

    After we acquire Canada, the border will go away won't it ;-)

  • ||

    Isn't this a step backwards in the formation of the NAU?

    What gives?

  • ||

    There are no steps backwards in the formation of the NAU. It's all part of the master plan.

  • ||

    If they live in Europe, yes.

    Seeing as how there isn't a single overarching governmental body over Canada, the US, and Mexico, this is irrelevant. On the other hand...

    I don't exactly see the problem here. Do people really expect to cross international boundaries without identification?

    The problem I can see with this is that it's such a pain in the neck to get a passport. This requirement essentially forces you to plan your trip out of the country two months in advance.

    One solution to make both sides happy would be to streamline the passport process to make it go faster, but we all know that is not negotiable.

  • ||

    My son got his passport 5 weeks ago for a Bahama trip. He paid 65 bucks for expedited service and he had it in hand in 9 days.

  • ||

    kwais,

    This is actually an attempt to increase support for the NAU. Five years hence, the Trilateral Commission will come out with an ad campaign promising that you won't need a passport to go to Can or Mex once the NAU is formed.

  • ||

    brotherben,

    That's even worse. So the govt bureaucracy has the ability to process passport apps quickly, but they want to shake you down for more money for the privilege. Sickening. Almost as bad as the flerking College Board with GRE scores. :(

  • Robert||

    Are there a bunch of people stuck in Canada now because they didn't know this new requirement would be slapped on while they were away?

    In 1970 when we were traveling together, it was a bit nervewracking that Uncle Danny (foreign born) had to show a NJ driver's license to get back into the US with the rest of our wagonful.

  • ||

    I drove from Seattle to Vancouver (BC) in 2001. All I needed was a driver's license, like George Washington and John A. Macdonald intended.

  • Jeff P||

    Nothing will get between me and my yearly trip to our Northern neighbor to buy the latest season of Trailer Park Boys on DVD and shit in a great lake.

    FYI The UPS store takes passport photos using those old duel-lens polaroids. Retro.

  • ||

    I have to agree with Tulpa here, a government agency that doesn't process stuff quickly unless you pay the extra "grease the wheels" money.

    I mean it sounds a little innocuous at first, but then we go getting into Egypt and Mexico territory. Both are countries that are dirt poor because of such things IMHO.

    Wealthy countries where the people are dirt poor because of the govt.

    Thats right MNG because of the govt.

  • alan||

    Yet another indication that our previous two presidents would have been better off reading Reason.

    I've got about a thousand different complaints on the ready concerning Clinton and his administration, but realistically, he is as close to a Reasonoid a President we are ever going to get.

  • Adam Lindsay||

    I agree and help promote many of the articles that appear on this site. But you guys must be kidding me with this one. This was announced months ago maybe even years ago. Heck I got my Passport in December in anticipation of it, so its at least been 6 months. Politics of it aside, anyone caught by this really should pay attention more. When traveling to any country, Canada, Mexico or any of the other 130+ ones that exist, it is a good practice to catch up on local events there. Is their maybe a civil war? Are they on the Evil Empire list? Is there a break out of the swine flu? Do I need a Passport?

  • ||

    """Bill Clinton and George W. Bush admitted yesterday they had no idea the U.S. was implementing a new rule Monday that would require Canadians and Americans to have passports to cross the border."""

    Which Bush? It's Bush Jr.'s plan. Although it was scheduled to happen in 2008, it was postponed until June 2009.
    New Rules.

  • Matt Welch||

    But you guys must be kidding me with this one. This was announced months ago maybe even years ago.

    Tell it to the past two presidents!

  • ||

    I drove from Seattle to Vancouver (BC) in 2001. All I needed was a driver's license, like George Washington and John A. Macdonald intended.

    ProL, was this pre-9/11? IIRC, they started hassling you if you didn't also have a birth certificate or passport around this time.

    As a green card holder, I am especially confusing to the border guys. Neither the Canadians nor the Americans seem to want to let me in.

  • ||

    Dagny,

    It was in late August 2001.

  • ||

    Our otherwise despicable Vermont senators have been complaining about this for years. Perhaps Bush didn't listen to Leahy?

    About 10 years ago I was crossing into Canada from Buffalo and had a border guy grill me since I didn't have a passport - "What, you don't know Canada is another country?" and "You wouldn't want Canadians entering America without a passport would you?" He finally did let me in but it sure was weird. Now I suppose distrust is just going to be standard.

  • ||

    The problem I can see with this is that it's such a pain in the neck to get a passport. This requirement essentially forces you to plan your trip out of the country two months in advance.

    They're not a one time thing, the last for three years. It's always good to have a valid passport.

    My son got his passport 5 weeks ago for a Bahama trip. He paid 65 bucks for expedited service and he had it in hand in 9 days.

    Your son got hosed. I didn't pay for expedited service and got it in under 2 weeks. That included a records search because I lost my prior passport and I don't have a US birth certificate.

    I have to agree with Tulpa here, a government agency that doesn't process stuff quickly unless you pay the extra "grease the wheels" money.

    I'd agree if it was at all comparable to Egypt, where the greasing money is just to get it to happen. However, paying extra so you can get it in 1 week instead of 2 seems reasonable. You pay other services more to give you better faster service.

    That said, this is a b.s. rule. Gone are the days of the TJ bender at age 19.

  • ||

    Three years should be 10 years in my previous comment.

  • Mike||

    Oh No! Now to get in the US, you have to prove that you are legally entitled to enter! What a horrible intrusion of our liberty! Next thing you know, they'll be making us show an ID in order to vote!

  • ||

    I drove from Seattle to Vancouver (BC) in 2001. All I needed was a driver's license, like George Washington and John A. Macdonald intended.



    Actually, no. A DL is not proof of citizenship. As I pointed out before, while it used to rarely be requested, proof of citizenship has always been a theoretical requirement.

    A birth certificate used to be sufficient, even the Ontario short form (a wallet sized version of the BC - I don't know if they issued them anywhere else). Even in the 60s it was suggest you carry your BC when you crossed the border.

    In all the times I have crossed the border, the only time I have ever been asked for proof of citizenship was by a Canadian Immigration guy at Toronto International. I showed him my Florida Voter Registration Card. That and my DL (to prove I was who I said I was - since the voter card has no photo) was good enough.

    My daughter is a dual national. She flashes her US passport entering the US and her Canadian passport going to Canada.

    The last time I drove up and the entry (at the Peace Bridge) went something like this:

    "Where were you born?" - "Honolulu, Hawaii"

    "Purpose of visit?" - "Visiting family"

    "How long you staying?" - "About a week."

    "Anything to declare?" - "I've got a couple of six packs of beer in the back of the truck"

    "OK, nothing to declare, Have a nice stay."

    And he waved me through. Probably 80% (WAG) of all crossings were like that or shorter. Most people just don't raise that much suspicion. When they do Customs and Immigration can be toal pricks. Both sides.



  • ||

    Just in case I haven't been clear.

    While in the past, they rarely requested ID and proof of citizenship the laws of both gave immigration officials the right to demand them.

    With the thousands of crossings every day it was generally though that excessive regulation would gum up the works.

    We wil soon, I believe, find that out. Good and hard.

  • ||

    SB - "laws of both countries"

  • ||

    Isaac,

    Well, that's all they asked me for. Maybe it's a Florida thing, since we allow their citizens to visit.

  • john lichtenstein||

    It's not like Betancourt is that strange a name. Good thing I have a passport.

  • JB||

    I swear beating politicians in the head with a shovel a few thousand times would make them smarter.

  • ||

    Well, that's all they asked me for. Maybe it's a Florida thing, since we allow their citizens to visit.



    Well the road ports of entry have always been the most lax. Got to keep the traffic moving.

    This passport thing is going to be hell for crossings.

    Probably in the end you'll flash the passport and as long as it looks kosher they won't question it.

    Crossing by train used to get you pretty thorough scrutiny, especially if it was really uncrowded. They'd get on at the station before the town at the crossing and then work through the train and get off and the one past.

  • ||

    I remember crossing at one between North Dakota and Saskatchewan with my Dad, late at night in the middle of winter. Thw guy wouldn't even come out of his shack. Dad had to go in, he was pretty sure the guy was drunk.

    I think we probably could have gone through without him even noticing.

  • ||

    Can't you just waltz across the border in some of the more remote locations? It's over 3,500 miles, right?

  • ||

    Do people really expect to cross international boundaries without identification?

    Before around 1914, people used to do it routinely.

  • ||

    Can't you just waltz across the border in some of the more remote locations? It's over 3,500 miles, right?

    Sitting Bull did it, IIRC. I don't know what kind of ID he had to show when he returned the U.S., however.

  • ||

    Before around 1914, people used to do it routinely.

    Yeah, before there were automatic transmission cars and nuclear bombs and stuff.

  • ||

    Will the U.S. build a wall between Stanstead, Canada and Derby Line, VT? Place guards between the sections of the common library? How about a minefield and guard towers across the International Golf Course at Portal, ND-Saskatchewan?

  • deja moo||

    In 1980 I crossed the Great Lakes to Canada and back. At both ends I had to track down a customs officer. As near as I could tell, nobody would have noticed if I hadn't insisted on being noticed. All the ID I had with me was my USN(Retired) card, which isn't really proof of citizenship.

    Does every fishing boat coming into those lake ports have to prove that they didn't come from the other side of the lake? Must be thousands of them. And hundreds of creeks and bays.

  • ||

    My great-uncle, in the 1950's and 60's, used to fish Lake St. Clair, between the U.S. & Canada. The most that ever happened to him was having a lake patrol boat come up to him and ask him for his fishing license. Occasionally a Canadian boat would tell him he was on the wrong side and shush him back to the U.S. side.

  • ||

    "Of course, what's really pathetic is that this won't even accomplish it's stated goal. Terrorists will just find another way in."

    I'm not afraid of terrorists. The real threat will come from the Repo Men, whom our foreign creditors will send to protect their investments. It won't be political. It won't be ideological. It won't be religious. It'll just be business.

    In the meantime, the passport, "papers please" thing is purest crap. Locking down the borders and looking at everyone's papers keeps us too distracted and busy to pursue effective border security against the real scofflaws and threats. We would be wiser to allow peaceful people, citizens or not, to pass back and forth, more or less as they please. Save our attention, effort, and resources for the real bad guys who mean and/or can actually cause us harm.

  • ||

    But officer, nobody told me that murder was illegal! when did that happen?

    What is this? A slow news day? Not enough sympathetic ignorant hick news to report? Is the John Birch Society still around?

  • nhindy||

    Can't you just waltz across the border in some of the more remote locations? It's over 3,500 miles, right?

    yah, but it's a bitch carrying the orchestra.

  • ||

    More of the "inconvenience = security" nonsense.

    I have a passport because I travel outside the US at least once a year, but why do we even have a border patrol with Canada? If France and Poland can have open borders with Germany, why can't the US have open borders with Canada?

  • ||

    I guess you've never heard of the European Union.


    Seamus | June 1, 2009, 3:22pm | #
    Do people really expect to cross international boundaries without identification?

    Before around 1914, people used to do it routinely.

  • David Dashifen Kees||

    If you're a male who takes his partner's name in marriage, make sure you add some time to the suggested passport waiting period. Getting mine to go on my honeymoon was a chore, to say the least.

  • ||

    Given the world view of much of the US right now, we've got to work on getting that other 30% to stay home, too...

  • ||

    Folks,

    This has been in the works for several years. I crossed the border to Mexico 2 years ago and there were huge signs stating that as of June 1, 2009, Passports would be required. It was part of the Bush Administration's homeland security policy. Sorry but you can't blame this on Nancy or Barack.

  • zbird||

    I can't believe the level of whining I'm seeing in the article and comments here. Every citizen in every country in the world understands that you need a passport to travel internationally. If 70% of Americans don't have passports, that's because most Americans are overly provincial and could use a little more exposure to the world outside the US's borders. In other words, quit whining and get a passport.

  • ||

    Just another example of "security theatre" in which we are all made (falsely) to believe that we are being taken care of by the strong men of the American republic. I *must* be safe if they are confiscating my toothpaste!

  • ||

    The irony of course is that within the EU - you know that place afflicted with the "papers please" syndrome - they no longer have to show a passport when crossing borders.

  • ||

    God, what a bunch of whining self-important dweebs comment here! Libertarians are the most juvenile people alive.

  • Dan||

    What's so hard about getting a passport? You can speed up the process by paying extra to expedite it if you're in a huge rush to get out of the country.

  • ||

    Q: "Do people really expect to cross international boundaries without identification?"

    A: "Before around 1914, people used to do it routinely."

    --------

    That was before two world wars, nuclear weapons, and 9-11.

  • gp||

    what's the big f'ing deal?

  • ||

    1. On an extended stay in Europe back in the 60s and 70s I regularly crossed borders without ever showing a passport. Usually when I pulled it out they just waved me on through.

    2. I live in VT on the Canadian border. Wife and I have passports. We frequently used to visit Canada for lunch or just for a drive. Canadian border guards were ALWAYS friendly and helpful even though they were careful about security. The problem was returning to the USA. American border guards all seem to have the nasties and usually treated us as if we are smuggling drugs or or Bin Laden's cousins. Courtesy is an unknown word. After one especially nasty border guard caused a bad experience for my wife, I complained to the Border Patrol HQ and was told, "We are concerned about security, not about making nice with you." We don't go to Canada much anymore.

  • ||

    You need passports to get to other countries. You've needed them for a while to go to Canada. This is old news. So what you need them to get back now? As long as you don't lose yours while in another country then you're fine.

  • ||

    With that said, however, the American guards are always nasty. They searched my van, and told me they were upset they didn't find anything, after I told them ten times there was nothing to find.

    I did tell them there was a rotten burrito in the mini-fridge, and said not to open it. Which they did. And gagged. Which was at least funny.

  • ||

    Rather frightening being reminded of how completely clueless and uninvolved our former president was. He not only did not know what his own DHS was implementing (or didn't remember), he now professes lack of knowledge about a policy he openly criticized almost four years ago:

    U.S. Mulls Border Passport Requirement

    Thursday, August 18, 2005
    Under the Bush proposal, the other 240 million would have to obtain one if they wanted to get back home after visiting Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, Panama or the Caribbean.....Shortly after the announcement, however, President Bush himself criticized the plan, saying it could "disrupt the honest flow of traffic."

  • ||

    Can't you just waltz across the border in some of the more remote locations? It's over 3,500 miles, right?



    Probably. But legally you're only supposed to cross at recognized Ports of Entry. If you check the map at the border between ND and SK you'll find that only one of the four or five is open 24 hours a day.

    It was part of the Bush Administration's homeland security policy. Sorry but you can't blame this on Nancy or Barack.



    I don't believe I saw anyone blaming this on Nancy or Barack. And I recall discussing this before back when it was proposed and then again when it was postponed.

    I don't blame Obama at all, except to the extent that he could postpone it again or even just cancel it. But he hasn't seen fit to be so hopey and changey.

  • ||

    What about people living here?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Point_Roberts,_Washington

    You can't travel between Point Roberts and anyplace else in the US without passing through Canada; it's topologically disconnected from the rest of the Union (think Alaska or Hawaii on a much smaller scale).

    What do they do if they don't have a passport?

    Is there even a place in Point Roberts where you can apply for a passport? (Sets up kind of a chicken-or-egg problem, doesn't it?)

  • ||

    Amerika upgeffukht ist, und outshtraighten needs to bekomm!

    Und iff zey vill not ze necessary papers produce, proof of der high treason
    zat should be taken as!

    Seig Health!

  • Vanessa||

    Has anyone mentioned that passports aren't cheap?

    Also, trouble with the IRS can get you denied a passport. For example, my sister was denied a passport because her ex-husband owed income taxes from some of the years during which they were married. He was in prison, so the IRS knew they weren't getting those taxes from him.

  • ||

    I believe that most Americans do not have passports for two reasons. One is the expense of traveling overseas. The average American family cannot afford this expense, so why get passports? The second reason is lack of vacation time.

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