Senate OKs border booster

The Senate passed legislation April 18 that would tighten security at U.S. borders by using biometrics and other high-tech tools to monitor who crosses the border and how long they stay.

The $3.2 billion Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act would take advantage of many of the new technologies on the market to track foreign students on temporary visas and check passenger lists of incoming jetliners from overseas.

It also would create a database from law enforcement sources that could help immigration officials bar possible terrorists, and it would require all travel documents for those entering the country to include biometric identifiers such as fingerprints or retinal scans.

The legislation, already approved by the House, passed in the Senate 97-0, and President Bush is expected to sign it after Congress makes some minor changes to the bill. But experts in the field cautioned that it is not a panacea.

"Biometrics can be a helpful part of [the] solution, but fingerprinting every person who comes across the border will be difficult," said Peter Kant, director of the Jefferson Consulting Group, a company involved in security.

Douglas Doan, vice president at New Technology Management Inc., said that biometrics is only a small piece of the solution.

"Border security is not achieved with one technology," he cautioned. "It is not achieved [by] hiring more people. There just aren't enough people to hold hands along the border. We need a mix of good technology and targeting tools."

And Michael Thieme, senior consultant with International Biometric Group LLC, said the bill could create one of the largest biometrics projects in the world. "There's going to be a major challenge in taking the idea of biometrics at the borders and making it reality," he said.

The border security bill would increase the pay of border patrol agents and allow the Immigration and Naturalization Service to hire 200 new investigators and another 200 inspectors.

It would also require INS to establish a foreign student-tracking system that records the acceptance of aliens by educational institutions, issuance of student visas and enrollment of aliens at schools. Several Sept. 11 hijackers were in the country on student visas.

Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) said the bill is expected to close those loopholes. Some of the hijackers "came in under student visas because they were looking for weaknesses to get into the United States in a less restrictive, reviewed area," he said. "So that is why this has been at the very heart of this bill."

Border lines

Highlights of the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002:

* Provide $3.2 billion across three years for hiring and training government personnel and for improvements in technology and infrastructure.

* Require machine-readable visas and other travel documents by 2004.

* Require personal biometric data on the documents.

* Require an interoperable name-matching system to identify and bar possible terrorists.

* Establish a foreign student-tracking system.

* Establish a tracking system for stolen passports.

* Require electronic transmission of passenger manifests to immigration officers by Jan. 1, 2003.

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