- The Washington Times - Monday, November 15, 2004

The Department of Homeland Security yesterday began using biometrics — including inkless fingerprint scans and digital photographs — at three U.S. land ports of entry as the first phase of a border security system that will be implemented this year at the nation’s 50 busiest land ports.

Port officials at Laredo, Texas; Douglas, Ariz.; and Port Huron, Mich., are the first to use the biometric system known as the United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology program (US-VISIT), which is expected to be fully online by Dec. 31.

US-VISIT is designed to allow border inspectors and agents to effectively verify the identity of visitors and confirm compliance with visa and immigration policies. The biometric and biographic data is used to determine whether a person applying for entry is the same person to whom State Department officials issued a visa, and also is checked against terrorist watch lists.

Homeland Security officials said the US-VISIT program successfully has met every one of its commitments and deadlines to date, and that the department was focused on its next phase at the nation’s land borders.

The security requirements were mandated by Congress after the September 11 attacks on the United States . Homeland Security officials have said information collected at the borders on U.S. visitors will be stored indefinitely in a national database, but its use will be restricted to ensure privacy.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Robert C. Bonner has said the US-VISIT program is a top Homeland Security priority, “enhancing security for our citizens and visitors while facilitating legitimate travel and trade across our borders.”

Mr. Bonner described it as the continuation of security measures that begin overseas and continue through a visitor’s arrival in and departure from the United States. He said it incorporates eligibility determinations made by both the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department, “helping us demonstrate that we remain a welcoming nation and that we can keep America’s doors open and our nation secure.”

While the US-VISIT technology has been implemented at 115 airports and 14 seaports since Jan. 5, Homeland Security officials said they are looking for “glitches” in the system before it is implemented at the nation’s top land ports. By the end of 2005, US-VISIT is scheduled to be operating at all 165 land border crossings.

Homeland Security is spending $340 million implementing inkless fingerprinting machines, digital cameras and computer equipment. Another $340 million has been allocated for 2005.

About 97 percent of all those who cross into the United States at the nation’s land ports of entry are exempt from the US-VISIT fingerprinting and photograph process. They are Canadian and Mexican citizens, most diplomatic and NATO visa holders, children under the age of 14 and persons over 79, and U.S. citizens and permanent green card holders.

The land ports involved in the test are the Blue Water Bridge at Port Huron, Mich., the Douglas, Ariz., port of entry at U.S. Route 191, and in Laredo, Texas, at the Lincoln-Juarez Bridge, the Gateway to Americas International Bridge, the Laredo-Columbia Solidarity Bridge and the World Trade Bridge.

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