De­part­ing for­eign­ers low on se­cu­rity radar; U.S. fo­cus on ar­riv­ing vis­i­tors

The Washington Times Weekly - - Na­tional - By Shaun Wa­ter­man

Home­land Se­cu­rity Depart­ment of­fi­cials said they have not aban­doned the idea of bio­met­ri­cally ver­i­fy­ing the iden­ti­ties of for­eign­ers leav­ing the United States by land, but ac­knowl­edge that it is at the bot­tom of a long to-do list of bor­der se­cu­rity mea­sures.

A re­port two weeks ago from the Gov­ern­ment Ac­count­abil­ity Of­fice said of­fi­cials had con­cluded that “for var­i­ous rea­sons, a bio­met­ricexit ca­pa­bil­ity can­not now be im­ple­mented with­out in­cur­ring a ma­jor im­pact on land port-of-en­try fa­cil­i­ties.”

The exit ca­pa­bil­ity for U.S.-VISIT, the sys­tem that uses fin­ger­prints to con­firm the iden­ti­ties of for­eign vis­i­tors, is a con­gres­sional man­date, al­though the law pro­vides no dead­line. A re­port on its im­ple­men­ta­tion is over­due and is ex­pected to be pre­sented to Congress next month.

Of­fi­cials say their pri­or­ity for U.S.-VISIT is to pre­vent po­ten­tial ter­ror­ists from en­ter­ing the coun­try, rather than to con­firm that le­git­i­mate vis­i­tors have left on time or to track down il­le­gal aliens and oth­ers who over­stay de­lib­er­ately.

“There’s a com­mon-sense rea­son for that,” Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary Michael Chertoff said. “Ask your­self what’s more im­por­tant: keep­ing a ter­ror­ist out in the first place or hav­ing a ter­ror­ist come in and find­ing out that he hasn’t left af­ter 90 days?”

Con­sid­er­ing that the Septem­ber 11 hi­jack­ers, sev­eral of whom had over­stayed their visas, “left by com­mit­ting suicide, it seemed pretty ob­vi­ous to us the first pri­or­ity is keep them out in the first place,” Mr. Chertoff said.

In line with that pri­or­ity, of­fi­cials say, the first or­der of busi­ness for up­grad­ing U.S.-VISIT is to in­crease the num­ber of fin­ger­prints used from two to 10.

Al­most all for­eign­ers ar­riv­ing by air or sea who are not le­gal per­ma­nent res­i­dents, and most non-Cana­di­ans ar­riv­ing at land ports of en­try, are checked by U.S.-VISIT.

Visa hold­ers are en­rolled in the sys­tem when they ap­ply at U.S. em­bassies. Other vis­i­tors, such as those from the 27 na­tions who can en­ter for 90 days with­out a visa, are en­rolled the first time they ar­rive in the United States.

There­after, their fin­ger­prints are used to con­firm a match with the visa, or that they have been al­lowed en­try with­out a visa.

Use­o­fal­l10printswould­pro­vide greater op­por­tu­nity to in­ter­dict those­whoseU.S.-VISITfin­ger­prints match la­tent prints col­lected from safe houses, bomb fragments and other places where ter­ror­ists have left a mark, Mr. Chertoff has said.

Home­land Se­cu­rity Depart­ment of­fi­cials say the en­try por­tion of U.S.-VISIT has caught dozens of crim­i­nals and other im­mi­gra­tion vi­o­la­tors, though they have not been able to point to a def­i­nite ap­pre­hen­sion or in­ter­dic­tion of a ter­ror­ist.

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