Sen. Murkowski objects to proposed passport requirement

Posted: Thursday, April 07, 2005

FAIRBANKS - U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski will take a skeptical look at a proposed requirement for Americans to use passports to re-enter the country from Canada and Mexico, according to her spokesman.

Federal officials announced Tuesday that Americans will need a passport to re-enter the United States from Canada or Mexico starting Jan. 1, 2008.

The requirement will apply to all Alaska-Canada border crossings, even for Alaskans driving across the Yukon Territory to get to and from Southeast Alaska, said Mike Milne, spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Seattle.

The proposed rule is part of a gradual tightening of the borders required by Congress in an intelligence reform act approved last year. Under the plan, passports will be required even sooner for air and boat traffic between the United States, Canada and Mexico. That deadline is Jan. 1, 2007.

Milne said he did not yet know whether the passport requirement would apply to passengers traveling between Alaska and Washington on the state ferry system.

The rules announced Tuesday were presented as a proposal, but the departments of State and Homeland Security said that the new law requires either a passport or "other accepted secure document."

Elliot Bundy, a Murkowski spokesman, said the Alaska Republican recognizes that there are increased national security concerns.

"But she is extremely concerned that requiring something like a passport to cross the border will severely impact Alaskans," Bundy said.

"She will be raising the issue with the State Department as they move toward implementation," he said.

Carrying passports could substantially increase the cost of driving to Southeast Alaska or the Lower 48 from Alaska, particularly for families and for those who must travel on short notice.

A first-time adult passport from the State Department costs $55. Applicants also pay a $12 security charge and a $30 fee charged by the issuing facility, such as a post office or court house, for a total of $97.

Children younger than 16 pay $82 total.

Application must be made in person at one of 37 locations around the state. Renewals within 15 years can be done by mail and do not require the facility fee.

Obtaining a passport can take six to eight weeks. The State Department offers two- to three-week service, but that bumps the $55 fee to $127. Private services also will take a person's documents and submit them at regional centers where the State Department has set aside slots for such applicants. For example, U.S. Vital Documents in Austin, Texas, charges $89 for three- or four-day service and $139 for one day service, on top of the $127, said owner Brian Wright.

Wright said he worries about whether the government will be able to deal with the volume of passport applications.

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