Passport Requirements Eased With Thousands of Vacations at Stake

Temporary changes in stricter passport rules for trips to Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean and Bermuda should ease lines at passport offices here in Houston. That from State Department officials and Houston lawmakers who have been flooded with calls from angry residents who haven't been able to get passports for summer vacations. Here's more from Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams.

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At the passport office downtown, Congressman Nick Lampson is sweating along with everybody else in a line that snakes up a sidewalk and almost into the street. He's trying to convince Daniel Harrison to be patient. Harrison is leaving Tuesday for a trip to Greece. Or at least he hopes he is.

Lampson: "Have you been told anything at this point? You're pretty much at the end of this line."
Harrison: "We've got one passport that we're going to pick-up when they open that door, but the other one is in this building somewhere and nobody can find it."
Lampson: "And you're going to stay here until it's found"
Harrison: "I'm going to stay here until they find it."
Lampson: "What we're trying to do is find out why there wasn't a recognition that when we put that many more people into the system that we wouldn't need additional personnel."

State Department rules requiring passports for flights to and from Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean and Bermuda have been temporarily suspended, which Lampson says should alleviate some of the backlog.

"For weeks we have been having people call us and it's escalating because of the amount of travel that's occurring this summer. It gets harder and harder for them to be accommodated. More people stand in longer lines. More people call our offices frustrated."

Passport officials say they've been inundated with requests since the new rules went into effect earlier this year and simply don't have the manpower to process the applications quickly. Jackie Bell runs the Houston passport office.

"We have issued over 18,000 passports this past week. We expect in the next couple of weeks that we will be ahead of the curve for the backlog that we have. So we ask for your continued support and patience with us as we work through this whole process."

Congressman Gene Green says things could get worse if the system isn't fixed.

"What worries me is within 8 months Homeland Security is going to want a passport for people who cross the border on land. If they think this is a problem, welcome to Texas because we have people who drive to Mexico many times during the year and they will have to get their passports not only for them, for their whole family."

Under the new guidelines, people traveling by air to and from Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean and Bermuda can simply show proof that they've applied for passports, even if they haven't received them yet.

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