All Americans who travel to Canada and other nearby countries by car, bus, or train will have to show passports "or another accepted document" to return to the United States starting in 2008, the State Department announced Tuesday. Those who fly will need a passport by Jan. 1, 2007.
Canadians, including children and newborn infants, will have to have passports to enter the United States as well.
Canadian officials said the restrictions were "not unexpected." But the news caught members of Congress off-guard.
The Bush administration did not say what other "accepted document" would work, but in its news conferences and published announcements, the stress was on passports.
The proposed mandate will end an era of trust between Americans and Canadians that is at least 80 years old. Canadians and Americans can now enter each others' countries by merely stating their place of residence, or if more identification is needed by flashing a driver's license, or birth certificate.
"They (Bush administration) just sprung it on us," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y.
Schumer ridiculed the idea of the Bush administration providing only a month for citizens and businesses to comment before the rule becomes official.
"I'm really upset" that they didn't attempt to implement tighter immigration controls without disrupting business in the Buffalo Niagara area and Northern New York, he said.
Schumer said he wants the regulation reviewed, as did Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds, R-Clarence.
Clearly unhappy with the announcement, Paul Koessler, vice chairman of the Peace Bridge Authority, said, "We are going to do everything we can to make sure this doesn't happen."
The Peace Bridge's general manager, Ron Rienas, said the passport requirement could have a negative impact on attendance at Buffalo Bills games, on the Bass Pro development in downtown Buffalo and on plans for casino gambling by making it much harder for Canadians to come to New York State.
The most likely to be affected will be the 13.2 million individuals who enter the United States via Niagara River bridges in cars. Another 1.3 million cross the Niagara on buses, and 37,000 more come across the river's railroad bridges by train a year. Truckers are increasingly using automated means of clearance at the border. More than a million trucks crossed the Niagara River to enter the United States last year.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the United States has to take every precaution to screen out "people who want to come in to hurt us." Last month at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, President Bush said border controls with Mexico had to be tightened to make sure that terrorists, drug runners, gun runners and smugglers do not enter the United States.
Almost 10 years ago, House Republicans from Texas tried to impose similar standards for Canadians and Americans crossing the northern border. But these efforts were thwarted by then-Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato, R-N.Y., and others. Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, said the new mandates "underscore the need for a redistribution of Homeland Security funds to provide the resources for these and other demands made on border communities." Higgins doubted the government is prepared to handle all the passport applications.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., noted there are technologies available to check identity without interfering with business and urged that Customs and immigration offices at the border "be adequately funded to provide ample staffing and to implement technological advances at the earliest possible time."
Passports can take up to eight weeks to obtain, even under ordinary conditions. Spokesmen for the State and Homeland Security Departments said passports will be required for all children, including newborn infants.
Bridge manager Rienas said many regular travelers between the countries have taken advantage of special permits such as NEXIS or FAST. Both systems allow those who ask for special permits, and undergo a background investigation, to cross quickly. "But the casual visitor is going to feel it most," Rienas said. "Will Canadians go to the Bills' games, or the Sabres if they start playing again?
"The elderly Canadian woman who likes playing bingo in Buffalo is not likely to bother getting a passport. There are busloads of Canadian schoolchildren who like to ski at Holiday Valley. Some won't have passports . . . "
"You know the planners for the Bass Pro development counted on Canadian shoppers from Ontario to make it successful," Rienas said. "What will happen now?"
The State Department said Tuesday the restrictions will be imposed in stages. Next Jan. 1, a passport will be needed to travel to the United States from the Caribbean and Central and South America. On Jan. 1, 2007, the documents will be needed for air and sea travel from Mexico and Canada. And on Jan. 1, 2008, the documents will be needed at land crossings at the Mexican and Canadian borders.
News researcher David Valenzuela and News wire services contributed to this article.