The Department of Homeland Security plans to relax passport requirements for children who are citizens of the United States and Canada traveling into the U.S. via land and sea.

Under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, as of January 1, 2008, people entering the U.S. via land and sea from Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, Bermuda, and the Caribbean will be required to present passports or other WHTI-compliant documents.

With the latest DHS proposal, American and Canadian children age 15 and younger will be allowed, with parental consent, to cross the border with a certified copy of a birth certificate in lieu of a passport. This exception also applies to children ages 16 through 18 who are crossing the border under adult supervision with a public or private school group, a religious group, a cultural or social organization, or an athletic team or organization.

The exception will not apply to air travel. As of January of this year, all passengers flying into the U.S., regardless of age, must present a passport.

The land and sea passport requirements, as well as the proposed exception for children, must be posted in the Federal Register and be subject to public comment before they can go into effect.

DHS is also finalizing regulations that will allow U.S. citizens to present — as an alternative to passports — less expensive Passport Cards, or Pass Cards, at land and sea borders.