INS struggling to track foreigners

The new head of the Immigration and Naturalization Service told Congress Oct. 11 that the agency needs more money and state-of-the-art technology to keep track of foreigners entering the United States.

In the wake of the worst terrorist attacks in U.S. history, INS Commissioner James Ziglar said new databases, technology platforms and biometric tools are essential to identifying potential threats to national security.

"Knowing who has entered and who has departed our country in real time is an important element in enforcing our laws," Ziglar told the House Judiciary Committee's Immigration and Claims Subcommittee.

The Justice Department estimates that INS has spent $2.6 billion on its automation programs, including $290 million in fiscal 2001 alone, but the projects have been criticized for delays, cost increases and possibly failure to meet the needs of the agency.

Given the importance of keeping track of foreigners, Ziglar said INS is speeding up work on a fully automated, integrated entry/exit data collection system that will be used at airports and seaports by the end of 2003.

He said INS is working to upgrade the student visa system, known as the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, so that it too is operational by 2003.

And INS and State Department officials are working to replace border-crossing cards with a new biometric "laser visa" and a fingerprint identification system known as Ident to track immigration violators.

But Ziglar said there is no "quick fix," technological or otherwise, to the problems the nation faces.

"Technology must be coupled with a strong intelligence- and information-gathering and distribution system if we are to leverage our resources and maximize our capabilities," Ziglar said.

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