- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 2, 2004

Delays in integrating FBI fingerprint files with databases used by the Border Patrol — a problem that won’t be fixed until at least 2008 — leave America’s borders vulnerable to entry by criminals and would-be terrorists, a Justice Department report said yesterday.

Inspector General Glenn A. Fine said that unless technological support is improved, it is “inevitable” that Border Patrol agents — often overwhelmed by large numbers of illegal aliens — will be unable to consistently determine the full criminal and immigration history, including prior deportations, of all the aliens they apprehend.

Mr. Fine said that while both the Justice Department and Homeland Security (DHS) have recognized the need to begin an integrated fingerprint identification system, they are uncertain who will be responsible for overall management of the project.

“Significantly, the Justice Department and the DHS have yet to enter into a memorandum of understanding delineating the specific roles and responsibilities of each agency in the project,” he said, adding that an integration project also has been slowed by the attention placed by Homeland Security on other technology projects.

Mr. Fine said the threat of illegal entry by both criminals and terrorists will continue as long as border agents have to decide when to check an alien’s criminal history from among 43 million 10-finger sets of prints in the FBI databases rather than being able to rely on an integrated system that matches fingerprints and automatically transmits an alien’s criminal history to a Border Patrol station.

The Inspector General’s report focused on the case of a Mexican national, Victor Manual Batres, who had been detained by the Border Patrol on two occasions in January 2002 for illegally entering the United States. On each occasion, agents returned him voluntarily to Mexico.

Mr. Fine said the agents did so because the immigration agency’s automated fingerprint-identification database, known as IDENT, and the FBI’s automated fingerprint-identification database, known as IAFIS, were not integrated and the agents who apprehended Batres did not learn of his extensive criminal record or past deportation.

“If his full history had been learned, according to Border Patrol policies he should have been detained and subject to prosecution,” Mr. Fine said. “Instead, Batres was returned to Mexico both times.”

Subsequently, he again crossed the border illegally and made his way to Klamath Falls, Ore., in September 2002, where he raped two Roman Catholic nuns, killing one, Sister Helen Lynn Chaska, 53.

Batres later was sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty to murder and rape.

“The Batres case again illustrates the urgent need to integrate the separate automated fingerprint-identification systems,” Mr. Fine said. “We continue to believe that the integration project should be a critical priority.”

The Batres case was reminiscent of a 1999 case in which the Border Patrol returned Rafael Resendez-Ramirez to Mexico, unaware the FBI and local authorities had outstanding warrants for him for murder and that he had a significant criminal history. Shortly after his return to Mexico, he illegally re-entered the United States and committed four more murders before he surrendered to authorities.

Mr. Fine said current projections are that IDENT and IAFIS will not be fully integrated until at least August 2008, almost two years behind the original scheduled completion date.

The FBI is part of the Justice Department. The Border Patrol, now included in U.S. Customs and Border Protection, is assigned to Homeland Security.

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