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Passport laws may change soon

WORTHINGTON -- For those who travel to Mexico for a warm winter vacation or to Canada for a fishing trip, the usual documents needed to re-enter the United States are a birth certificate and a driver's license.

But by next year, coming and going from the U.S. won't be quite so easy -- a passport may be required.

The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative will require all travelers, including U.S. citizens, to have a passport or other accepted document that establishes the bearer's identity and nationality to enter or re-enter the U.S.

In the proposed implementation plan, the initiative will be rolled out in phases. On Dec. 31, 2006, the requirements will be applied to all air and sea travel to or from Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean and Bermuda. On Dec. 31, 2007, the requirements will extend to all land border crossings as well. The goal, according to the U.S. Department of State, is to strengthen border security and facilitate entry into the U.S. for its citizens and legitimate foreign visitors.

In Worthington, passports can be applied for at the post office or at the recorder's office in the Nobles County Government Center.

According to Nobles County Recorder Lynn Wilson, the process of applying for a passport takes about 10 minutes if the person applying has all of his or her paperwork in order.

"We want people to continue to come to our counter," Wilson said. "We keep it very private."

The fee to get a passport includes the fee for the passport itself, a security surcharge and an execution fee. For anyone 16 years of age or older, it costs $97 total. The passport is good for 10 years. For anyone younger than 16, the total fee is $82 and the passport is good for five years.

The $30 execution fee stays in the county, Wilson said. In 2005, the Recorder's Office brought in $10,500, which means it processed 350 passports. That number has almost doubled from the number of passports processed in 1999.

"We're all traveling more," Wilson added.

Although the recorder's office cannot take the photos required for a passport, it can get copies of birth certificates as long as the birth took place in Minnesota.

"There are many qualified photographers in town to do the photo. We encourage people not to take their own photo," Wilson said. "It can be rejected, which can make the process longer."

One photo studio in Worthington, for example, charges about $13 for four passport photos.

"Just tell a photographer you need a passport photo. They know what to do and what size it needs to be."

It normally takes about six weeks to get a passport, unless the person applying is willing to pay a $60 fee to expedite the process. With the additional fee, it can still take two weeks to receive the passport. Wilson said the passport may be processed in a shorter time in an emergency, but that requires an itinerary from a travel agent. There are walk-in agencies where a passport can be processed in a day, but the nearest one is in Chicago, Ill.

The applications are available at the Recorder's Office, and most of the information requested is commonplace. Documentation needed includes a proof of identity, such as a driver's license, government ID or previous passport, and a certified birth certificate. If a birth certificate is not available, there are a number of documents that can be used, along with a letter of no record from the state -- such as baptismal certificates, a hospital birth certificate, a census record, early school records or a doctor's record of post-natal care.

For a child 14 to 18 years old, the signature of one parent is required. For a child younger than 14, both parents are required to sign. If only one parent can be present, written permission from the other parent is required. There are exceptions, such as if one parent is deceased or if only one parent is listed on relationship evidence.

Passport renewal can be done through the mail if the bearer was at least 16 years old when the previous document was issued, has the same name or documentation to reflect the name change, and can submit the previous passport, which must be less than 15 years old. The form to renew a passport is available at the Recorder's Office.

With the implementation of the initiative, Wilson suggests contacting a travel agent if the traveler is unsure whether or not he or she needs a passport for any planned travel in the next couple of years. Any further information can be obtained from the Recorder's Office or online at

The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 mandated the U.S. Secretaries of Homeland Security and State develop and implement a plan require secure identity and citizenship documentation when entering the U.S., which led to the Initiative.

The initiative will not affect travel between the U.S. and its territories. Citizens traveling between the U.S., Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa will continue to be able to use established forms of identification to board flights and for entry.