Passport facilities across the United States have been inundated with applications since the recent requirement (as part of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative) to have a passport when entering the U.S. by air from Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean. And in January of 2008, passports will be required for all land and sea travel between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean. As it stands now, most people must wait up to 12 weeks (it normally takes six weeks) for a passport, a delay that can interfere with travel plans.
Because of this overflow, the Bush administration is leaning towards a temporary suspension of the new passport rule, allowing entrance to the U.S. for individuals who have already applied for a passport, as long as he/she has a State Department receipt of application and a government-issued ID. However, for those traveling under these conditions, Homeland Security will enforce stricter security checks, including in-depth questioning and thorough bag checks.
The hope is that this suspension will give the State Department the time it needs for backlogged processing facilities to catch up. The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative was implemented in January, and between March and May of this year the department saw a 60 percent increase in passport applications over the same period last year. More than 4.5 million passports were issued, and millions more are waiting to be processed.
This is potentially good news for travelers who have tickets in hand, but have yet to receive the proper identification to return home. However, this solution seems to be a band-aid on a bullet wound, and it seems to me this new rule suspension is just another example of what happens when fear dictates decisions, and poor planning follows suit.