- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 1, 2004

Sen. Dianne Feinstein yesterday labeled as “unacceptable” efforts by U.S. border agents to integrate fingerprint databases aimed at identifying terrorists seeking to enter the United States illegally, saying it was time to “put the heat on to get this done.”

Angry about a report last month by the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General that integrated fingerprint databases used at border ports by the U.S. Border Patrol and the FBI will not be fixed until at least 2008, the California Democrat’s comments were aimed at U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) Commissioner Robert C. Bonner.

“We have fallen another year behind schedule … this is unacceptable,” she said.

Mr. Bonner told Mrs. Feinstein that although problems concerning the databases preceded his arrival at CBP, he was confident that they would be worked out and that the system would be in place seven months after Congress approves additional funding for the agency’s U.S.-VISIT program.

“We are moving forward, and I assure you we will get this done,” he said.

U.S.-VISIT uses biometric identifiers such as fingerprints and photographs at primary inspection locations along the border using an inkless fingerprint scanner and a digital camera to verify the identity of foreign nationals. The new procedures provide access to shared databases previously available only at secondary inspection and will help inspectors determine the admissibility of people who want to enter the United States.

The exchange came during a hearing called by Sen. Saxby Chambliss, Georgia Republican and chairman of the Judiciary subcommittee on immigration, border security and citizenship, to study the effect of President Bush’s proposed guest-worker program — outlined in January — on the country’s ability to secure its borders against illegal aliens.

Mr. Chambliss said the president called the control of the U.S. borders a top priority in the proposed program, which included improving information-sharing; identifying terrorists, criminals and immigration violators; and working with the Canadian and Mexican governments to increase border security.

“Even with our best efforts, illegal immigration is a huge problem,” he said, noting that of the 8 million to 12 million illegal aliens in the United States, an estimated 60 percent had entered without inspection.

“Since a temporary guest-worker proposal will increase the flow of people into and out of the United States on a visa, we must be confident in our border security,” he said. “To stop terrorists, I have advocated for a single, consolidated watch list that can be accessed by the various agencies in order to connect the dots. I am encouraged by the administration’s efforts for better intelligence-sharing, but we are not there yet.”

Mr. Chambliss said that if a guest-worker system is to provide a legal way for workers to enter the United States, illegal entry must be deterred. As Congress begins the legislative process toward reform, he said, national security, as well as U.S. economic interests, should shape the country’s policies.

“This starts with controlling our borders,” he said.

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