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Changes in passport laws could affect summer vacations

Beware: New passport laws, now in affect by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, could dampen vacation plans this summer.Connie Cheatham, Superior Court clerk of McDuffie County, said residents living in the county need to be aware of the new law and apply for their passports as early as possible to avoid delays or even missed vacations.

In some cases, getting a passport to travel abroad could take as long as 10 weeks, Mrs. Cheatham said.

"I want people to know in McDuffie County that it's best for them to come on in and apply for their passports as soon as possible," Mrs. Cheatham said. "It takes longer to get passports under the new law."

The average wait for those applying for a passport in McDuffie County is between four and six weeks, she said.

"People applying for a passport before this new law was passed was about three weeks," Mrs. Cheatham said. "With the new law, it's considerably a longer period."

This year alone, dozens of McDuffie Countians have applied for passports through the McDuffie County Superior Court Clerk's office. Several other residents from neighboring Wilkes County also have applied here, she said.

"We always have a good many people apply with our office every year from Wilkes County," said Mrs. Cheatham. "We even had a few from the Harlem and Appling areas of Columbia County in the past."

Under the new federal law, which went into affect in January, U.S. citizens traveling by air between the United States and Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean and Bermuda are now required to present a valid passport.

The new law is part of a major crackdown by U.S. officials to better safeguard American borders under the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act.

Mrs. Cheatham said in the past, persons applying for a passport had not had a significant problem getting it processed and returned in time for vacation.

"The new law has changed all of that now, however," Mrs. Cheatham said. "That's why I'm urging those with summer vacation plans to apply for their passports as soon as they can, if they're leaving the United States."

Web posted on Thursday, May 17, 2007

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