Ridge announces VISIT system

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge announced a new initiative today to build an electronic check in/check out system that will keep track of noncitizens as they enter and leave the United States.

Ridge said the new program would incorporate the troubled Student and Exchange Visitor Information System and eliminate the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), which required citizens of certain countries to be fingerprinted and registered with the federal government. Both systems hit snags during development and came under fire from civil liberties groups.

The new system, U.S. Visitor and Immigration Status Indication Technology system, or U.S. VISIT, will make it easier for legitimate tourists, students and business travelers to enter the United States using biometric identifiers. It is expected to be in place at air- and seaports by the end of this year, according to Ridge.

"While the new VISIT system will make it more difficult to enter the United States illegally once implemented...it [also] will expedite the process for those who are entering the country lawfully," Ridge said.

Ridge's newest initiative will eliminate the NSEERS program, which required citizens of countries such as Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan and Syria to register and be fingerprinted by the federal government. The student registration system will be folded into the new program to keep track of foreigners studying in the United States.

Ridge, speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., outlined the accomplishments of the department's first 100 days. The achievements he cited included strengthening U.S. borders to stop potential terrorists. Although he did not point to a single instance when a terrorist was stopped, he said the new systems in place have disrupted and deterred potential attacks.

"Overt security...in and of itself is a deterrent," Ridge said. "We know from discussion with people that have been apprehended...that if you modify your security patterns, that in and of itself is a deterrent."

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