By RON VAMPLE
ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER
SEATTLE PRESS INTELLIGENCER
DETROIT -- U.S. and Canadian children will be exempt from new rules that will require travelers to show passports when entering the U.S. at land or sea borders, a move the Bush administration said Thursday is aimed at helping families and school groups.
The new passport requirements will take effect as soon as January 2008. In a change from earlier plans, U.S. and Canadian citizens ages 15 or younger with parental consent will be allowed to cross the borders at land and sea entry points with certified copies of their birth certificates rather than passports.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff discussed the relaxation in rules at a speech Thursday to the Detroit Economic Club before touring the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel, a link with Windsor, Ontario under the Detroit River.
"This is going to make it a lot easier for kids to cross the border without having to get passports and passcards," Chertoff said. "By the way, it's specifically designed to make it cheaper for families."
U.S. and Canadian citizens ages 16 through 18 traveling with school, religious, cultural or athletic groups and under adult supervision will also be allowed to travel with only their birth certificates.
The rule is designed, for example, to allow hockey teams and other groups to go back and forth without disrupting their schedule, provided they are chaperoned, Chertoff said.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., a longtime critic of the overall passport requirements because of the potential impact on the economy of border states, said he was pleased by the exemption for those under age 15.
"That's a great first step and now we're going to have to make sure they do it for everyone over 15 as well," Schumer said.
Schumer said he would introduce legislation that would delay implementation of the passport requirement until at least June 2009. The bill also would require studies on the economic impact of the initiative on each border state, and to test an enhanced driver's license program as an alternative to passports in at least one location.
Any alternative to passports would have to cost adults no more than $20 and be free for children, under the bill.
Beginning last Jan. 23, nearly all air travelers entering the U.S. who are citizens of Canada, Mexico, Bermuda or the Caribbean - as well as returning American citizens - have been required to display passports. Children entering the United States by air will still be required to show passports.
Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke said the easing of rules for children entering by land or sea was in part the result of talks between the department and Canadians and interested state officials. Canada and U.S. border states have been concerned that the passport requirements would hurt legitimate travel and commerce.
When the new requirements for travelers crossing land and sea borders take effect, it will bring residents of Western Hemisphere nations under the same rules as travelers from the rest of the world.
The rules were mandated by Congress in 2004 as a response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the recommendations by the Sept. 11 commission that border security be tightened.
Last October, Congress passed an amendment sponsored by Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, that would postpone the day the land and sea rules take effect for as long as 17 months, till June 2009, if certain conditions have not been met.
One of those conditions was to develop an alternative procedure for groups of children traveling across the border under adult supervision and with parental consent.
Chertoff met with local officials in Detroit and planned to travel to Ottawa, Canada, for meetings Friday with his Mexican and Canadian counterparts.
In Detroit, Chertoff met with Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land, who has offered a proposal where state driver's licenses and identification cards, which are being revamped to meet federal standards, also could serve as a passport. She said the plan would be simple and cut costs.
"It eases the burden of these new laws on our citizens with a commonsense, workable solution," she said. "It also protects our economy while achieving everyone's goal of combating terrorism."
Associated Press Writers Beverley Lumpkin in Washington and Carolyn Thompson in Buffalo, N.Y., contributed to this report.