System proposed to track foreigners

An entry/exit tracking system, to be among the border security initiatives in President Bush's fiscal 2003 budget proposal, is intended to improve the Immigration and Naturalization Service's ability to detect foreign nationals who overstay their visas.

The system, which is likely to include automated document readers and databases, will enable the agency to match arrival records against departure records, said Kimberly Weissman, an INS spokeswoman.

Today, INS monitors foreign nationals as they enter the country but does a poor job of monitoring departures, she said. As many as 3 million foreign nationals are believed to be in the United States today on expired visas, according to some estimates.

Bush highlighted the entry/exit system in a pledge during his State of the Union address Jan. 29 to improve homeland security by using "technology to track the arrivals and departures of visitors to the United States."

According to a White House statement Jan. 25, the new system also would "dramatically improve our ability to deny access to those individuals who should not enter the United States, while speeding entry of routine, legitimate traffic."

To do that, the system would have to be linked to other data systems, such as the Interagency Border Inspection System, which contains information gathered by the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration and other agencies.

It is uncertain exactly how the tracking system will work, Weissman said, but it may include machine-readable documents, such as visas and passports that include biometric identifiers, such as fingerprints or eye scans.

Funding for the tracking system is included in a $10.7 billion budget request the president is ready to send to Congress Feb. 4. According to the White House, the sum for improved border security is $2.1 billion more than is being spent this year. Weissman said the system is scheduled to be installed at all U.S. entry points — international airports, sea ports and land border crossings — by 2005.

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