The U.S. House of Representatives voted Friday to delay for 17 months new rules requiring passports for Americans entering the United States by land and sea from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda.
The State Department has been flooded with passport applications since new rules requiring passports for air travellers went into effect in January. The resulting backlog has caused delays of up to three months for passports and ruined or delayed the travel plans of thousands of Americans.
In response, the government has already temporarily waived a passport requirement for air travel, provided people can demonstrate they've applied for a passport.
Friday's vote will increase the pressure on the government to take the extra time and fix theproblems in the program. But the vote is just one step in a process that will require additional approvals.
"Nobody can say with a straight face that the federal government is ready for this," said Ohio Representative Steve LaTourette. "My amendment simply asks the DHS to slow down and get it right this time."
The Department of Homeland Security wants passports for everyone driving across the border into Canada or Mexico beginning in January 2008 — a rule that some experts believe will lead to a fourfold increase in demand for new passports.
The passport application surge is the result of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative that, since January, has required U.S. citizens to use passports when entering the United States from Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean by air. It's part of a broader package of immigration rules enacted after the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington.
The 379-45 House vote Friday matches a provision included in the Senate's version of a homeland security spending measure, approved by the appropriations committee Thursday.
The measure still has to be voted on by the full Senate.
The House vote came as representatives passed a $37.4 billion US homeland security budget bill.
The homeland security measure contains budget boosts to hire 3,000 new border security agents and double the amount of air cargo that is screened before being loaded onto passenger planes.It also roughly doubles grants given to localities for mass transit and port security.
The homeland security bill is the first of the 12 annual spending bills to pass the House.