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Published: Thursday, 4/7/2005

Frequent border travelers divided over practicality of passport law

BY STEVE EDER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

WINDSOR, Ont. - Larry Smith's bad case of spring fever gave him the urge to cross the border to Windsor yesterday for an afternoon at Casino Windsor.

Soon, though, it won't be so simple for people like Mr. Smith, a Ford Motor Co. employee from Ypsilanti, Mich., to spontaneously cross into the northerly neighbor by land, sea, or air.

By 2008, all U.S. citizens will be required to show a passport before entering or re-entering the United States from Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean under a law passed by Congress on Tuesday.

The passport initiative is meant to strengthen security along U.S. borders by adding a new layer of protection amid concerns about terrorism. Some frequent border travelers say it is worth the money and the time spent purchasing passports if they will help prevent terrorists from moving freely into and out of the United States, but others are skeptical.

"We've been going across the border for years," Mr. Smith said. "Anybody who wants to get in will get in anyway. It's just the honest people who will be inconvenienced."

Spring fever prompted Larry Smith of Ypsilanti, Mich., to head to Casino Windsor. Mr. Smith is skeptical of a requirement to show a passport when re-entering the United States from Canada. Spring fever prompted Larry Smith of Ypsilanti, Mich., to head to Casino Windsor. Mr. Smith is skeptical of a requirement to show a passport when re-entering the United States from Canada.
KING / BLADE Enlarge

For the millions of travelers crossing the Detroit-Windsor border each year - and all travelers crossing any Mexican or Canadian border - a passport or accepted document will be necessary by 2007. By the end of this year, Americans traveling to and from the Caribbean and Central and South America will need the approved documentation.

The U.S. government has not specified which documents will be acceptable in addition to the passport. The rules approved Tuesday could undergo changes during a 60-day comment period before they go into effect later this year.

"I think it's a good idea," said Edith Ludeman, of Sterling Heights, Mich., who visits Windsor with her husband, Don, every Wednesday. "To us, it's worth it to get the passport just to come over."

The new rules eventually will require Canadians and Mexicans to have a passport or accepted document to enter or re-enter the United States.

Lissy Kunkel of London, Ont., who visited Windsor yesterday on a bus tour, said "everyone has a different opinion" on the new rules, but it really isn't a problem for her. But while she's used to showing her passport when she travels to Germany, she said traveling into the United States has meant tougher security standards - especially in recent years.

"When you go to the states, you feel like a prisoner," she said. "I'm not used to that."

Currently, a U.S. citizens can buy a passport for $97, plus the cost of supplying two photographs and proof of identification, such as a birth certificate.

Nick Cousino, 24, of Monroe said those fees will be deterrents for the young people who frequent Windsor for its booming nightlife. Patrons who are 19 and older are allowed to drink alcohol and gamble in Canada.

"I understand they have to have their procedures," said Mr. Cousino, who was in the Greektown district of Detroit with friends last night after attending a Detroit Tigers game. Considering the cost of purchasing a passport, he said, "it's not worth it."

He added, "I feel bad for the companies that are in downtown Windsor."

Managers of one of Windsor's largest attractions, Casino Windsor, believe it is still too early the measure the full impact of the new regulations. About 80 percent of the patrons who visit Casino Windsor are American, said Holly Ward, a spokesman for the hotel and casino.

"It's certainly an issue that concerns us," Ms. Ward said yesterday. "Anything that affects the borders - tie-ups, security - it is definitely a concern of ours."

The casino, which opened in 1994 and is one of Windsor's largest employers, already has suffered in the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks, laying off 100 workers last year amid declining revenue. Still, plans for a $400 million expansion were announced earlier this year with the hope of business returning.

The mandatory passport rule could have a serious impact on all industry along the border - especially on the Windsor side, said Dave Battagello, the border reporter for the Windsor Star. Mr. Battagello characterized this border plan as "one of the most extreme" implemented since the terrorist attacks.

"Every one of these kind of puts another nail in the coffin for [openness on the border]," he said. "Fewer and fewer people are crossing the border to visit casinos, to go shopping, or even visit family."

Transportation companies that carry Americans to and from Pelee Island said they expect little impact on their business. Kelly Griffing, treasurer of Griffing Flying Service in Sandusky, said the company was prepared for the proposed passport requirement.

"We've been telling our customers for years that this was going to be coming about, and it really doesn't affect us at all," Mrs. Griffing said. The airline company offers year-round service to the Canadian island, with seven daily flights during the summer.

Windsor's marina district has slowed down in recent years, said Chuck Robinson, the manager of Riverside Marina at Port Windsor.

"Since Sept. 11, the security has tightened up, which is understandable," Mr. Robinson said. "Most of us are unaware of what the laws really are."

Mr. Robinson also questions if the new rules will be effective.

"All it does is keep the honest people honest," he said. "The crooks are still going to be crooks."

There also is uncertainty about how the new policy will affect workers who cross borders each day to go to work, including employees at Ford's Windsor engine plant.

Christine Hollander, a spokesman for Ford of Canada, said she did not expect the changes to be a problem for most employees because many already have passports. She said the company has not made any decisions about purchasing passports for employees who must cross the border for work.

"We'll evaluate it case-by-case and make a decision," she said.

Staff writer Steve Murphy contributed this report.

Contact Steve Eder at:

seder@theblade.com

or 419-724-6728.



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