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US Postpones Passport Rule for Land, Sea travelers
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Under fire from stressed travelers and angry lawmakers, the Bush administration on Wednesday postponed for at least six months a requirement that Americans returning by land or sea from Canada, Mexico and Caribbean nations must carry passports.


The rule, due to go into effect in January 2008, will be delayed until the summer that year, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced at a news conference in Washington, D.C.


From Jan. 31 until then, travelers from those destinations must show a government-issued photo identification such as a driver's license as well as proof of citizenship such as a birth certificate, he said.


The decision came after a deluge of complaints about a three-month backlog at the State Department in processing passport applications.


That has snarled spring and summer travel plans for many Americans, and forced others to scramble to get their passports at the last minute even when they had applied months in advance.


The US government will issue 18 million passports in 2007, 6 million more than last year, according to the department.


Chertoff said that he was "obviously dismayed" by the delay.


More flexibility must be in place to ensure "a somewhat gentler and less disruptive" transition to the new rule, he said. "We are not going to drop the axe on Jan. 1, 2008."


While the land and sea-travel passport requirement has been delayed, Americans are required to have a passport for air travel to Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean nations. That took effect in January next year.


The passport requirements are part of the government's anti-terrorist efforts since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.


US officials said requiring a passport at border crossings would standardize the form of identification required of travelers and make it harder for terrorists to forge documents to gain entry to the country.


(Xinhua News Agency June 21, 2007)


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