HIGHGATE, Vt. - Motorists passed easily through border checkpoints Thursday as tougher identification standards for U.S. and Canadian citizens went into effect without the backups and confusion some travelers had feared.
People entering the country will no longer be allowed to simply declare to immigration officers at border crossings that they are citizens. Instead, those 19 and older will have to show proof of citizenship - a passport, trusted traveler card or a birth certificate and government-issued ID such as a driver's license.
Customs officials said delays were minimal across the country and that most motorists had the documentation they needed.
"Very much business as usual," U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokeswoman Kelly Klundt said in an e-mail.
Officers at the ports will have latitude to admit people who are unaware of the changes once their identities are confirmed, said Jayson Ahern, deputy commissioner with Customs and Border Protection, who is heading a national effort to call attention to the changes. Many points were offering a grace period and handing out fliers explaining the changes.
There were no unusual delays during the morning rush hour in Detroit, which has the busiest northern border crossing, said Ron Smith, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection there. The bridge and tunnel crossings between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario typically can see wait times of about 30 minutes to enter the U.S.
At the Highgate Springs port of entry at the top of Interstate 89 in Vermont, nearly all motorists were carrying the documentation they needed, said Port Director James McMillan. Waits to cross the border were no more than two to three minutes.
Bruce Poulin, a salesman from Rollinsford, N.H., knew about the changes were coming and had a birth certificate with him.
"It was relatively smooth. No complaints," he said.
Things also were normal at Texas border crossings. Truck driver Paul Kraus, 42, regularly makes the trip across the Ambassador Bridge for Dallas-based Stevens Transport. Kraus, who always carries required documents, said he encountered no delays or problems.
"It's actually slow today," he said of traffic at the bridge after crossing into the U.S. at Detroit on Thursday morning.
In North Dakota, officials at the Pembina port of entry reported only one vehicle out of 250 crossing from Canada as of midmorning did not have the proper documents. The travelers were given a paper explaining the new requirements, said Jason Schmelz, an assistant port director for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency.
"If we have no questions, we just issue them that piece of paper and then they're allowed to proceed into the U.S.," he said.
Congress approved the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative in 2004, which requires verified citizenship and identification of all those entering the country from Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean. The passport requirement for land and sea crossings has been delayed until June 2009.
Mexican citizens will continue to have to present valid passports and visas. Canadian citizens previously were not required to show a passport, but will need one after next year.
Smith said few people have crossed the northern border by just declaring their nationality since the 2001 terrorist attacks, because officers have always had the discretion to request documents.
Over the last two fiscal years, 31,000 people who claimed at the borders to be U.S. citizens were not, Ahern said.
Critics, particularly in northern border states, have assailed Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff over the changes. Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., accused him of not understanding "the practical effects of DHS policies on the everyday lives of border community residents."