Alaska editorial: Mentality behind new passport rules is discouraging

Posted: Monday, June 18, 2007

Alaskans are getting a temporary break from one of the more disruptive counterterrorism measures set in motion after the attacks of 9/11.

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With the country's passport processing system nearing a meltdown, the Bush administration suspended passport requirements for U.S. travelers coming back on flights from Canada, Mexico and Caribbean nations. Until the end of the summer, proof that you have applied for a passport will do, along with a government-issued ID.

Mind you - we're talking about countries that don't already require U.S. visitors to carry a passport. You need your U.S. passport to get back into this country.

Those countries trust us enough to allow our citizens in without a passport. But our government is so spooked that we won't let our own people back in the country without this expensive, complicated-to-obtain document. The fortress mentality behind the passport requirement is profoundly discouraging.

The new passport rules took many U.S. travelers by surprise. As the summer travel season neared, they flooded the State Department with applications, and the system essentially collapsed. Without passports, U.S. travelers simply cannot leave on long-planned foreign flights. Angry constituents bombarded congressional offices with complaints. The outcry produced the temporary easing announced last week.

Inside the European Union, countries have refused to hunker down against terrorists. Instead, those nations have continued to keep their borders open to passport-free travel for their fellow European Union citizens. The United States has moved in the opposite direction.

Used to be, terrorists spooked Americans into staying home by launching attacks on them when they traveled overseas. Now, the terrorists have triumphed in a different way. They have frightened the U.S. government into making it so difficult that citizens cannot get the official documents needed to leave.

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