31 January 2008

New Passport Regulations

As I was listening to NPR this morning, they reminded me of something great and wonderful. As of tomorrow, ALL U.S. Citizens will require passports for travel outside the United States. Yes, boys and girls, that also means for Canada and Mexico.

Isn't it great?!

I have long thought that having a passport should be a requirement as soon as you can recognize your own name. Oh sure, I doubt that these regulation will cause Americans to lose their "see America first" mentality, and in many case will cause many more to never travel outside of the U.S., but I still think it's a great feat that our government is finally getting on the band wagon with the rest of the world. You see, as Americans, we're lucky that we've not had to use passports for everything all this time. I remember going to Canada when I was 19, and not needing more than my driver's license. It was only a few years ago that they required a birth certificate to cross the border back and forth. And don't get me started about crossing the Mexican border. Even though I've never done it myself, I've heard stories about what happens to people who were US citizens trying to cross without the (not necessary) passport as they were swindled by US Border Guards, or handed over to the Mexican police.

Now, for air travel all US citizens must present a valid passport. And this includes children. Unfortunately, we can still quench our need to be holed up on disease carrying ships or crossing the border in a car/bus without passports. Those over 19 only need to show a photo ID, and those under 18 only need to show a birth certificate. Okay, so we're making some measures to catch up to the Soviet Union of 1950, but perhaps we're not there yet.

And speaking of the Soviet Union, when I was in Russia a few years ago, I was amazed at how much people used their passports in every day life. Having traveled previously in Western Europe, I suppose I took my passport for granted. There, everyone carried their passport or an identification booklet for young men who get stopped often to see if they're dodging the draft [to fight in Chechnya]. In my personal case, I'm talking about when I had to surrender my passport to have my visa validated, when I feared that my identity was gone. That's one thing about us, isn't it? Once we have a passport, we don't walk away without it easily. I was terrified handing some strange "official"100 rubles (re: bribe) and walking out of the room with naught but a copy of my passport...for 3 weeks! When I finally got it back, I was relieved beyond belief. So when I walked across the border from Boliva to Peru a few years later, and the guard walked away with my passport, it wasn't such a HUGE shock (but that doesn't mean I didn't follow him around the check point like a beggar making sure that nothing happened to it).

I am glad to see that US citizens are now required to have passports to go abroad now. Even though they're still not necessary to travel through the U.S. Territories or to Puerto Rico, at least we don't have to have our passports for domestic travel yet. It could happen.

1 comment:

Kim said...

It may only a matter of time before passports are required for domestic travel. While home in Michigan for Christmas, my family and I went out to dinner. I ordered a beer and after the waitress studied my DC driver's license for awhile, she asked for another form of ID. "Excuse me?" She alleged that another form of picture ID, with or without birthdate, was necessary. After voicing my doubt, I reluctantly handed her another form of ID--one which did not have my DOB and could have easily been forged. Five minutes later I had my beer, so who knows...maybe passports will be required domestically, if only for out-of-state drinking purpsoes.