DHS defends border cards

US-VISIT Fact Sheet on land borders

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A Homeland Security Department official defended plans to use border crossing cards as an interim solution for tracking Mexican visitors until DHS' massive entry/exit system is in place at border crossings.

DHS officials have decided to use border crossing cards at southern land borders in place of the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) program to avoid delays as the system rolls out. Some critics see the cards as a vulnerability in the border program.

"I think some of the criticisms fail to understand the reasons behind it," said Asa Hutchinson, undersecretary for border and transportation security, said at a Border Trade Alliance conference in Washington, D.C. "I would stress that it is an interim solution."

Mexican citizens using border crossing cards are not going to be enrolled in US-VISIT and have already been cleared in the issuance of the cards, officials said. The card allows them to stay in the country for 72 hours. Although the crossing cards include fingerprints and a photograph, a person's identity is not checked against a database at the port of entry and the visitor is not tracked upon exit.

"We have confidence they are not terrorists and not a danger" to the United States, Hutchinson said of those cleared for the crossing cards.

Hutchinson said officials want to enhance technology for the cards and eventually merge them into the US-VISIT program. For example, DHS officials are exploring radio frequency technology as a solution for tracking the use of the crossing cards. Officials are currently laying the underground infrastructure for this technology at the 50 largest land ports, and will then examine the best way to get the technology in the hands of travelers.

US-VISIT Director Jim Williams said the exemption was necessary to meet the mandated December 2004 deadline to have US-VISIT implemented at the 50 largest land ports. He said the decision came down from President Bush.

To implement the system at the land borders, Hutchinson said officials would take a much different approach as they did to roll out the system in January this year to 115 airports and 14 seaports.

"Everyone has a level of nervousness because you think we'll implement it at land borders as we did at air and seaports," Hutchinson said. "We recognize there is a huge challenge, so we have made a number of distinctions" for the land border plans. For example, visitors with visas will be enrolled at the secondary check points at border, rather than the primary points, he said.

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