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Bush Retraces Passport Plan Steps

President George W. Bush said Thursday he has ordered a review of plans to tighten border re-entry rules from Mexico and Canada because requiring passports for everyone could "disrupt the honest flow of traffic."

Mr. Bush said he has asked Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and officials from the Homeland Security Department to see whether more flexibility could be exercised.

The new rules, which would take effect in 2008, were included in intelligence legislation that Congress passed last year.

But this came to a surprise to Mr. Bush, CBS News Radio Correspondent Mark Knoller reports.

"I said 'What's going on here?' I thought there was a better way to expedite the legal flow of traffic and people," Mr. Bush said.

Mr. Bush says the passport regulation will disrupt the honest flow of traffic. He says he's asked the Departments of State and Homeland Security to see if there is some flexibility in the law.

Mr. Bush told the American Society of Newspaper Editors that this flexibility might include electronic fingerprint imaging "to serve as a so-called passport for daily traffic" to help speed up the process.

Americans would need passports to come home to the United States under guidelines proposed recently as part of an effort to deter terrorists from entering the country. The new rules apply to Americans traveling from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, the Caribbean and Panama as well as citizens from those countries who want to enter the United States.

An estimated 60 million Americans have passports, about 20 percent of the nation's population.

"When I first read that in the newspaper about the need to have passports — particularly the day crossings that take place, about a million for instance in the state of Texas — I said, `What's going on here?"' Bush said when asked about the new rules.

"I thought there was a better way to expedite the legal flow of traffic and people," he said.

"If people have to have a passport, it's going to disrupt the honest flow of traffic. I think there's some flexibility in the law, and that's what we're checking out right now," he said.

"On the larger scale, we've got a lot to do to enforce the border," he said.

Mr. Bush has proposed immigration-liberalization legislation that would establish a guest-worker program, but it has encountered difficulty in Congress, particularly among Republicans from states along the Mexican border.

Around 10 million immigrants live in the United States illegally; most are from Mexico, with an additional million arriving every year.

"Now is the time for legal reforming of the immigration system," Bush said, and asked Congress to work with him.

"I have no illusions," he said. "This is a tough issue for people."

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