WASHINGTON -- President Bush said that he has ordered a review of plans to tighten re-entry rules at the Mexican and Canadian borders, saying requiring passports for everyone could "disrupt the honest flow of traffic."
Bush said he had told Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and officials from the Department of Homeland Security to see if more flexibility could be exercised.
He 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 by 2008 under proposed guidelines announced 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. They also apply to citizens from those countries who want to enter the United States.
The new rules were called for in intelligence legislation that Congress passed last year.
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.
Bush has proposed immigration-liberalization legislation that would establish a guest-worker program. But it has encountered difficulty in Congress, particularly among border-state Republicans.
An estimated 10 million immigrants live in the United States illegally; the vast majority are from Mexico, with an additional million arriving every year.
"Now is the time for legal reforming of the immigration system," Bush said, saying that Congress should work with him.
"I have no illusions. This is a tough issue for people," he said.