As Matt noted yesterday, the State Department has proposed requiring Americans returning from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, the Caribbean, and Panama to present their passports. According to the A.P. report, it also wants to make citizens of those places bring their passports when they visit the U.S., "prompting Canadian officials to announce they might reciprocate."
This news puzzled me, since the last time I flew to Canada, in October 2003, I was turned away at Reagan National for want of a passport and had to go home, retrieve the little blue booklet, and take a later flight. After that incident, I remembered (a little too late) that the previous time I had visited Canada, in June 1999, they let me in with just a driver's license but warned that I'd need my passport to get out. (I had my wife FedEx it to me.) So what exactly is new about the new policy?
Evidently, the difference is that the current policy requires proof of citizenship, which need not be a passport. Contrary to the A.P. account, the State Department says a driver's license is not enough (although you do need some sort of photo ID in addition to proof of citizenship). But "a certified copy of your birth certificate" will do. To me that seems harder, but presumably many U.S. citizens who travel to Canada or Mexico don't have passports–only 20 percent or so of Americans do–and find it easier (and cheaper) to obtain certified copies of their birth certificates. (Is there some other reason to prefer birth certificates?) Or maybe A.P. is right, and some (many? most?) customs officials have been letting people through with nothing but driver's licenses, despite the official policy.