(NaturalNews) Passports will be required for almost all passengers arriving in the U.S. come next January -- including American citizens returning from abroad and from other countries in the Western Hemisphere like Canada and Mexico.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff gave that exact date in an interview with the Associated Press this week, and the Homeland Security Department plans to announce the change next week on Wednesday.
So far, the Department of Homeland Security had not given a date for instituting the passport requirement for air travelers, even though it was rumored the program was set to start at the beginning of next year. The new date of Jan. 23 pushes the start of the new passport program past the holiday season.
At this time, U.S. citizens returning from other countries in the hemisphere are not required to present passports, but must show other proof of citizenship such as driver's licenses or birth certificates. Once the end of January comes around, U.S. citizens will then have to show official passports for re-entry into the country.
Normal Americans will join visitors from most countries in the Western Hemisphere who are already required to show passports. There are some exceptions -- people from Canada, Bermuda and Mexico who enter the U.S. frequently and have special border-crossing cards have been allowed to bypass passports and use other forms of identification to enter the U.S., including driver's licenses.
Chertoff said, "Right now, there are 8,000 different state and local entities in the U.S. issuing birth certificates and driver's licenses … it puts an enormous burden on our Customs and Border inspectors," in an apparent reference to the Customs and Border Patrol having to keep up with so many different forms of identification.
In an unrelated but similar program, Homeland Security plans to require all travelers -- including Americans -- who enter the U.S. to show a passport or an alternative security identification card starting as early as January 2008. With an estimated 25 percent passport ownership rate among Americans, some have balked at having to pay the $97 price tag.