- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 29, 2005

A truck driver from the Republic of Georgia — who was wanted in Germany for a 1997 murder — had been living under a false name in Canada and routinely crossing the border into the United States with ease.

Until May, no one was the wiser. But a match of his fingerprints tipped U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents that he was a wanted man. Soon, he was arrested and extradited to Germany to stand trial.

And in the month leading up to the 2004 presidential election — which officials said was a target for disruption by terrorists — a series of 1,300 domestic field investigations of people thought to pose a potential national security risk resulted in the detention of 270 on immigration violations.

The investigative work of ICE’s Compliance Enforcement Unit (CEU) has led to the arrests of 1,440 lawbreakers since it was created in June 2003.

Two database tools enabled those catches, as well as the denial of nearly 7,000 visas for would-be entrants, according to Department of Homeland Security acting Assistant Secretary John Clark. Neither existed before the September 11 attacks.

One is the 17-month-old US-VISIT program, which collects fingerprints and other biographic information from visitors on their arrival in, and departure from, the United States. Until this system was created in January 2004, it was relatively easy for people to enter and leave the United States using fraudulent documents and aliases.

“In the past, criminals and others who were the subject of lookouts needed only a new name to slip across our borders,” Department of Homeland Assistant Secretary Michael Garcia, who oversees ICE, told a House committee earlier this year.

The other tool is the Student Exchange Visitor Information System, an Internet-based program deployed in 2003 that helps the bureau keep track of thousands of foreign students and exchange visitors, many of whom in the past never went home once their studies were over.

Using data gleaned from the student and visitor databases, CEU agents compare it to information from Interpol on criminals and fugitives, the State Department’s list of lost and stolen passports, the FBI’s known or wanted terrorist files, and other sources.

For international students, information is assembled on their location from the time they are accepted at an American school until the end of their courses and the expiration of their visas.

Before the September 11 attacks, the system for monitoring consisted of an archaic, paper-based process that was overwhelmed by keeping track of as many as 1 million international students at 70,000 schools in the United States.

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