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Higher passport fees proposed
The U.S. State Department is considering increasing the fees of the passport books and passport cards it issues to American citizens.
But if the fees are increased, John Echard Jr., spokesman for the State Department's bureau of consular affairs, doesn't believe it will affect the volume of border crossings back and forth into Mexico in the Yuma area.
"Not necessarily, because the passport card is not increasing that much," he said.
U.S. citizens are required to present a valid passport book when entering or re-entering the U.S. from any foreign country.
If they are entering or re-entering from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean or Bermuda at land borders and seaports, they may also use the passport card.
According to the State Department's Web site, the fee increase is necessary to cover the cost of producing a greater volume of passports since June 1, 2009, when a new law requiring all U.S. citizens to present the passport book or card when crossing into Canada and Mexico went into effect.
"The proposed fee change is based on a comprehensive cost of services study," Echard said.
"It ensures the services we perform are being paid for in full. It costs more to produce a passport than we are actually charging."
According to the State Department, over the past five years the demand for passports has increased to an average 15 million a year. In 2005 it issued 10.1 million passports and peaked at 18.4 million in 2007. It expects to issue over 15 million in 2010.
The State Department said passport fees cover the costs of providing emergency services for American citizens overseas in crisis situations, such as the current earthquake disaster in Haiti, helping Americans who have been the victims of crime while traveling or living abroad and providing support to the families of American citizens who have died overseas.
Echard said the fees also pay for fraud protection technology.
"Passport fees are critically important to keeping up with the latest developments in technology, and to stay one step ahead of resourceful and technologically savvy criminals, terrorist groups and subversive elements bent on doing our nation harm."
Echard said the passport books and cards now issued are technologically advanced, including a facial recognition program that helps detect lookalike fraud.
"That technology makes sure you are secure and that you are traveling safely. In the book, there are certain fraud measures including new e-passports which can be scanned electronically."
Echard said the passport card has a built-in Radio Frequency Identification chip that speeds up border crossing times.
"This chip points to a stored record in secured government databases. With this technology, Customs and Border Protection inspectors are able to access photographs and other biographical information to ease border facilitation."
According to the State Department, passports are not just used for travel anymore. They serve as proof of U.S. citizenship and identity for important purposes such as work authorization and eligibility for many federal benefits.
"A passport does so much more than a driver's license - it shows you are an American citizen," Echard said.
For more information about U.S. passport fees, log on to www.travel.state.gov. U.S. citizens may also get passport information by phone, in English and Spanish, by calling the National Passport Information Center toll-free at 1-877-487-2778, or from the Yuma County Clerk of the Superior Court Office at 817-4210.
• $135 for a first-time U.S. Passport Book for adults age 16 and over (currently $100)
• $55 for a first-time U.S. Passport Card for adults age 16 and over (currently $45)
• $110 for U.S. Passport Book renewal age 16 and over only (currently $75)
• $105 for a U.S. Passport Book for minors under age 16 (currently $85)
• $30 for a U.S. Passport Card for adults age 16 and over who currently hold a fully valid U.S. Passport (currently $20)
• $40 for a U.S. Passport Card for minors under age 16 (currently $35)
• $82 for additional visa pages (currently $0)
• Expedited service will remain $60
WHAT: Passport Fair to provide passport information to U.S. citizens and to accept passport applications
WHEN: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. March 27
WHERE: Yuma County Courthouse, 250 W. 2nd St.
MORE INFO: Call Yuma County Clerk of the Superior Court Office, 817-4210