McALLEN, Texas -- About 2 million Mexicans failed to convert their border-crossing cards into new high-tech IDs by the Oct. 1 deadline, and hundreds were turned back Monday when they tried to get into the United States.
Some said they were unaware of the cutoff date for getting the new "laser visas," while others said they had been expecting the U.S. government to grant an extension, as some members of Congress have requested.
The new ID cards are required along the 1,962-mile-long U.S.-Mexican boundary in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.
Isabel Lopez Flores, 66, traveled 4 1/2 hours from the interior town of Aldama, Mexico, so she could go to JC Penney in McAllen to buy a new pair of glasses.
"They told me this wasn't good anymore. I had no idea," Flores said, shocked, as she held up her passport.
Officials at one entry point, at McAllen, Texas, had returned 308 pedestrians, 551 vehicles, and 66 Mexican truck drivers by 3 p.m.
In Arizona, about 100 people were turned back from the state's seven ports of entry during the first half of the day, said Russell Ahr, Immigration and Naturalization Service deputy district director.
"The awareness of the new card is greater than we probably expected, and the inconvenience has been minimal," Ahr said.
At California's San Ysidro border crossing near San Diego, immigration inspectors by mid-morning had turned back 25 people who didn't have the new cards.
5.5 million permits
Congress mandated the use of the new cards in 1996 but has extended the deadline at least twice.
About 5.5 million of the old permits, which look like a driver's license, were issued. The new ones arrive 60 to 90 days after they are applied for and feature fingerprints and data encrypted in magnetic strips, which officials hope can prevent fraud and forgery.
The cards permit Mexicans to enter the United States and travel within 25 miles of the border for up to 72 hours at a time.