- The Washington Times - Monday, October 1, 2001

Congress' 1996 mandate that Mexicans routinely entering the United States use ID cards with fingerprints will take effect today even though the immigration service has yet to install machines needed to read them.
The Immigration and Naturalization Service asked Congress for money to buy the machines two years ago, but was turned down because it didn't know exactly what kind of equipment it needed, INS spokesman Russ Bergeron said.
Now the agency knows what it needs to scan the border cards but doesn't have the money, he said.
Some Mexicans have yet to obtain the new cards, ensuring more confusion when they present their old cards to enter the United States to work this morning. The cards let Mexicans enter the United States and travel within 25 miles of the border for up to 72 hours at a time.
The State Department, which issues the cards, has asked Congress to extend the deadline, but lawmakers have yet to vote on it and are back in their home states for the weekend. It is not clear how warm a reception the request will get when they return.
"I think the time for extensions is over," Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas Republican and former chairman of the House immigration subcommittee, said Friday. The deadline has been extended at least twice, he said.
The current chairmen of the House and Senate immigration subcommittees, Rep. George W. Gekas, Pennsylvania Republican, and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, support a further extension.
Mr. Smith said he assumed that Mexicans with old border crossing cards would be admitted to the country today, though with heightened security at border points due to the Sept. 11 attacks, and would continue to be admitted until INS gets the machines it needs to read the new cards.
Congress mandated use of fingerprinted border crossing cards at the Mexican border as part of 1996 immigration legislation.
The higher-security cards, which also feature magnetic strips, help fight fraud, such as theft, forgery or obtaining multiple cards.
Without the machines needed to read the new cards, however, U.S. border inspectors must eyeball them the same way they did the old ones, in essence rendering the new security features meaningless.
The immigration service hopes to get funding for the scanning machines as part of a budget request the Department of Justice is putting together to help agencies deal with the terrorist attacks, Mr. Bergeron said.
Meanwhile, the INS is working to get a plan in place by this morning to handle people who do not have new cards, he said.
"Certainly we want to be able to do the best job we can. We want to be able to utilize new technologies to improve our ability to protect the border," Mr. Bergeron said.
"At the same time, we realize that the acquisition and installation of new technologies takes time and money."
Mr. Gekas said he did not know what would happen at the Mexican border today, but he would try to reinstate the old system temporarily.

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