The rise of the Passport Bureaucracy

For most of history, passports and visas were two words for the same thing and in Europe and the US they were only occasionally required during wartime in order to exclude dangerous foreigners. In 1941, the US was again at war and congress again created the authority to deny entry into the US of foreigners who were deemed dangerous to the Republic and this time the authority was never revoked. In 1979, the US government made it illegal for Americans to travel abroad without a passport (except to Mexico and Canada). Until around this time there was essentially no de-facto controls over people crossing America’s land border with Mexico and Canada. That gradually began to change and as a result, Mexican migration became a lot more permanent. Mexicans had been accustomed to just doing seasonal work in the US and then returning home to Mexico because they could cross the border freely and after border crossings started to be regulated, they started to put down roots in America in much larger numbers.

In the early 2000s, the government started talking about requiring passports for travel to Canada and Mexico for the first time. In 2006, about 75 million travelers crossed the US-Canadian border by land and about 87 million by air. By contrast, there were 234 million crossings of the US border with Mexico. In June 2009, the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) started requiring passports (or related international travel documents) for movement across these borders and the percent of U.S. citizens owning a valid passport has nearly doubled since the government started talking about requiring passports for travel to our nearest neighbors:

One reason passports are becoming more popular is that international tourism has been growing, and the other reason is that government bureaucrats have been increasing their control over international travel over the past century. The Statue of Liberty is undoubtedly happy about the first reason and sad about the latter.

Posted in Globalization & International

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