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U.S. officials blast Canadian border plan

Americans and Canadians will have to show proof of citizenship at the border between the two countries beginning Jan. 31 unless, in the words of Sen. Byron Dorgan, U.S. homeland security officials exercise some "common sense."

Dorgan, D-N.D., during an appearance Friday at the Fargo-Moorhead Visitor's Center, urged federal officials to suspend new rules requiring a birth certificate, passport or other proof of citizenship when crossing the border.

"It's quite clear we're going to have a mess on the northern border," Dorgan said in a news conference. "It will in my judgment add nothing to security."

Congress has delayed the June implementation of a new provision requiring passports to travel to and from Canada and Mexico among other countries .

But some documentation beyond the traditional driver's license will be required unless the U.S. Department of Homeland Security reverses the requirement.

At the news conference Monday, local business leaders joined Dorgan in warning that travel from Canada - surging as the weak dollar has lured Canadian shoppers - could take a hit with the new document requirements.

At the border crossing in Pembina, N.D., traffic is up almost 75 percent from a year ago, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection figures. Many of those visitors were headed to Grand Forks and Fargo.

"We have a lot of Canadian visitors in this part of the world," said David Anderson, president of Fargo's Downtown Community Partnership. "We have a lot of Canadians that have discovered downtown."

Cole Carley, president of the Fargo-Moorhead Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the United States should be aggressively marketing tourism opportunities, as Canada, Great Britain and Greece do, not erecting unnecessary barriers.

"We believe that the concept of secure borders and open doors are not contradictory," he said.

Dorgan, who introduced a northern border security initiative before 9/11, said he favors a yet-to-be issued pass card, at a cost of about $20, instead of a passport, which costs $97.

"I don't think border security should take a back seat to economic issues," the senator said.

Patty Auka, a travel agent at Travel Travel in Fargo, said more and more travelers now have passports in hand when making travel plans. Travel agents have been advising customers to obtain passports for more than two years because of the new requirements, she said.

"I do think it's sinking in," she said. "A majority of people have them nowadays, to tell you the truth."

Border changes

Beginning Jan. 31, citizens will have to present proof of U.S. citizenship at the U.S. border. Documents can include:

- A passport

- Birth certificate

- U.S. military ID with travel orders

- Native American tribal photo ID card

- U.S. certificate of naturalization or citizenship

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522