Bush signs tech-heavy border bill

President Bush signed a border security bill May 14 to require foreign visitors to carry high-tech visas and passports, mandate computer tracking of visiting students and improve access to electronic databases in U.S. consular offices overseas.

The Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act would make $150 million available to the Immigration and Naturalization Service to improve technology for protecting U.S. borders.

"We can do a better job of making our borders more secure, and make our borders smart," Bush said. "We must use technology and be wise about how we use technology, to speed the flow of commerce across our borders and to identify frequent travelers who pose no risk."

The bill passed unanimously in both houses of Congress, pushed by lawmakers as a way to improve national security and fight terrorism.

Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), one of the bill's sponsors, said the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks made clear some of the shortcomings of the U.S. immigration and visa system. "This bill is an important and strong first step toward fixing that system," she said.

The chief House sponsor, Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) said the law should help make the U.S. immigration system less vulnerable to exploitation "by aliens who wish to harm Americans."

Among the bill's provisions are:

* A requirement that by Oct. 26, 2004, the State Department issue only tamper-resistant visas and other travel documents that include machine-readable biometric identifiers. To make the documents work, INS will have to install scanners able to read documents with biometric identifiers.

* Supplying electronic data systems to State Department consular offices to provide instant access to the databases of U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies. Information in the databases would be used to block issuance of visas to known and suspected terrorists.

* Creation of a foreign student tracking system by INS. The agency announced last week that it would begin operating a Student Exchange and Visitor Information System July 1. The system will make it possible for universities and other schools make electronic reports to INS of student arrivals, changes of address, courses of study and other information.

* Requiring all commercial passenger ships and airplanes entering the United States to provide a list of passengers and crew before arrival. This way, border authorities can check their databases to determine if there is a potential terrorist or other suspect on board. The bill also provides for hiring of additional immigration inspectors and investigators.

Judi Hasson contributed to this report.

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