About the Author: Howard Josephs serves in the Bureau of Consular Affairs as a Customer Service Manager at the Los Angeles Passport Agency.
On August 26, 2010, the Bureau of Consular Affairs and Congresswoman Susan Davis (D-CA-53rd) teamed up to announce the news to San Diegans: a new passport agency is coming.
"The citizens of San Diego, Southern California, and surrounding states will be well-served by this new agency. Its proximity to our shared border with Mexico provides U.S. citizens with a convenient location in which they can apply for a passport book or a passport card," said Rick Saltzman, future Director of the San Diego Passport Agency.
Mr. Saltzman and the General Services Administration led Rep. Davis on a tour of the construction site. Also present were representatives from the offices of Senator Barbara Boxer, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Rep. Darrell Issa, and Mayor Jerry Sanders; as well as representatives from local USCIS, Social Security, and Diplomatic Security offices. Last but not least, crossing the border to join Rick and his guests were the Consul General, Vice Consul, American Citizen Services Chief and others representing the U.S. Consulate in Tijuana.
San Diego has long been a gateway to Mexico. Traditionally, border crossing was a casual affair for U.S. citizens traveling back and forth and no passport was required.
However on June 1, 2009, the second phase of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) went into effect, requiring that U.S. citizens have a passport to re-enter the U.S. from Mexico, Canada and the Caribbean by land or sea (since 2007, a passport book was already required when re-entering the U.S. from those locations by air).
To lessen the impact on U.S. citizens in border communities, the Bureau of Consular Affairs (CA) developed the passport card, a lower cost, easy-to-carry alternative to the passport book. The card can be used to meet the land and sea requirements of WHTI.
And there are more than 100 non-Department of State passport application acceptance facilities in the San Diego region, so that one could easily apply and get a passport book or card within four to six weeks; or for an additional $60 expediting fee, within two to three weeks.
But what if you needed a passport sooner to cross the border? What if you had a sick loved one in Sinaloa? Or a family vacation next week in Ensenada and didn't realize your passport had expired?
Certainly a stressful situation. The only solution would be driving from San Diego to the Los Angeles Passport Agency; and if you've ever taken a bumper-to-bumper ride on the 405 freeway, that's a very stressful situation itself. As noted by Congresswoman Susan Davis, “When people have passport emergencies the last thing we should have to ask them to do is drive five hours roundtrip up to Los Angeles and wait around all day to get their passport issued.” The Bureau of Consular Affairs was thinking the same thing.
The San Diego Passport Agency is expected to open in downtown San Diego in the spring of 2011. "San Diegans are an on-the-go group," commented Rep. Davis, “We certainly expect that the San Diego Passport Agency will help San Diegans to truly be on- the-go rather than stuck in stop-and-go on the 405!"