U.S., partners shore up borders

U.S. immigration officials are working closely with their Canadian and Mexican counterparts to ensure the efficiency and interoperability of border and immigration systems.

With Canada and Mexico seeing the most traveler and cargo traffic with the United States, officials have developed action plans to make sure each country's systems and initiatives are compatible.

Border security is "probably the single most important policy issue facing Canada in the next five years, and probably facing you," said Bill Sheppit, a representative from the Canadian Embassy. He was speaking June 10 on a panel on border security at the E-Gov 2003 conference in Washington, D.C.

Canada and the United States entered into a smart border agreement about a year and a half ago, Sheppit said, with 30 action items to secure the borders and facilitate travel and trade. Of those items, six are information technology-specific and 11 require IT support, he said.

Officials on both sides now face the task of ensuring the systems are interoperable, a task complicated by differing standards in the two countries. Officials are also developing a compatible immigration database to share information, but they face privacy issues.

At the southern border, Mexican and U.S. officials are working from a 24-point action plan, which includes harmonizing port of entry operations, implementing the advanced passenger information system, securing in-transit shipments and facilitating the electronic exchange of information.

U.S. officials have been using systems at the northern and southern borders for several years, which will provide the framework for the comprehensive entry/exit system. The U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indication Technology (VISIT), formerly the Entry/Exit System, is set to roll out at air and sea ports by the end of this year and will eventually merge several existing border systems.

For example, the Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection system was implemented at ports of entry on the Mexican border in the mid-1990s and involves a pre-enrollment process for frequent travelers. Travelers are given a transponder for their vehicle, much like the EZPass used at toll booths, allowing them to speed through the checkpoint, said Bob Mocny, deputy director of U.S. VISIT, also speaking on the E-Gov panel.

Along the border with Canada, immigration officials have been using a similar program, which uses a proximity card for each traveler, Mocny said. These projects, coupled with pilot programs in biometrics and fingerprinting, pave the way for U.S. VISIT.


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