I woke up this morning with a sinking feeling that I should have done something, and I should have. As of midnight, the land and sea phase of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative went into effect, requiring US Citizens to show WHTI-compliant documents when entering and re-entering the United States from Mexico, Canada, Bermuda, and the Caribbean Region. My passport expired in 1991, but at the time it wasn’t a requirement. Now, for the first time in over thirty years, I can’t go to Mexico. Well, I can go. I just wouldn’t be able to show the proper documentation to come back.

The U.S. Department of State has had a countdown ticker on their website for a while, letting you know down to the second how long you had to get the proper travel documents. But, when I looked this morning, the ticker was gone. I doubt “I didn’t have time” would fly as an excuse at the border. But perhaps “I was in denial” would.

I was born a US Citizen in Tijuana, and like millions of people living in the US, I have ties to Mexico. But, for most of my life, all that was ever required for reentry into the United States was an oral declaration. I clearly remember sitting in the back of the family car, returning from vacations, and practicing saying “US Citizen” over and over, always nervous that they wouldn’t believe me. But they always did. Then, not too long ago, after they realized thousands of people who gave oral declarations were lying, you had to start showing proof. My Consular Report of Birth of a U.S. Citizen Born Abroad and California Driver’s License were enough.

Those times have changed though, since, much like the consequences of my procrastination, threats to national security have reached global proportions. And, despite my current predicament, I agree with the new requirements. This is one of those few instances when I really think that we have something that is going to make the work of the people protecting our border points easier, while making our country safer, hand in hand. Border patrol agents no longer have to look at thousands of types documents and try to decipher which ones are legitimate and not. Fakes will be easier to catch. And so will potential threats to our security. But, over the years there has been a lot of talk about strengthening border security so I didn’t know if this time was for real. But it was.

My next planned trip to Mexico isn’t for another year, but I woke up this morning with “what-if” scenarios flowing through my brain. What if I was on my way to go shopping at the outlet center in San Ysidro, got lost, and missed the last US exit, and ended up having to go into Mexico to turn around, and I couldn’t get back? What if my other three wisdom teeth started hurting me and decided to go back to my dad’s dentist in Tijuana, or worse yet, what if there was a family emergency and I had to travel to Mexico to visit family, or what if I won an all expenses paid trip to Aruba and the catch was I have to leave today, but I have to tell them I can’t make it because I didn’t get a passport even though I had internet access and therefore had access to the ticker?

So, I am going to go apply for a passport. Soon. Really soon.

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David Dodd June 1, 2009 @ 11 a.m.

Is the passport a U.S. passport?

If so, your old passport will work just fine - even if it is expired. You should get it renewed, certainly, but applying for re-entry into the United States from the Mexico border requires a passport as means of identification, not means of travel abroad. In other words, were you to wish to go to Mexico City, your passport wouldn't work because it is expired and technically can't receive a visa, a permission to travel, but it is certainly a valid identification for re-entry into the U.S. if you are a citizen of the U.S.

Also note: If you apply for a passport, make a copy of your birth certificate and attach it to the application - they will accept this at the border. I applied for my passport over a month ago (express) and still haven't received it. I asked about this problem last week when I crossed and they said they would accept it in lieu of the passport.


tiburon760 Aug. 13, 2009 @ 11:40 a.m.

Always gotta have your Passport for those "what ifs?" I keep mine on me because I work 20 minutes north of the border & what if I have to "run" to the border? What if I crave tacos? What if I want to go catch a bull fight? Go get it soon, Michaela


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