DHS wants to expand US-VISIT

Homeland Security Department officials are proposing to expand a biometric screening program for international visitors that would include legal permanent U.S. residents, people seeking asylum and refugee status, and some Canadians, among others.

Officials at the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) program published a “Notice of Proposed Rulemaking” today in the Federal Register that would require the proposed groups to use digital photographs and digital inkless two-fingerprint scans to verify their identities. They are seeking comment by Aug. 28.

US-VISIT, which applies to all international visitors or foreign nationals with few exceptions, is operational in 115 airports, 15 seaports and 154 land border points of entry.

According to program officials, US-VISIT has processed more than 60 million people to date without any major disruptions at the ports of entry and has identified more than 1,100 individuals using fraudulent identity documents.

Under the proposed expansion, lawful permanent residents; individuals seeking entry on immigrant visas, paroled in the United States or applying for admission to Guam through the Guam Visa Waiver Program; refugees; people seeking asylum; and some Canadian citizens, such as individuals who regularly cross the U.S. border for employment and business, will be subject to US-VISIT rules. Officials said the vast majority of Canadians who that come to the United States for pleasure and short business trips would not be included.

US-VISIT Acting Director Robert Mocny said about 1 million to 1.5 million more people who cross regularly will be processed through the program annually through this expansion. He said the program has the information technology support systems in place to handle the additional load and didn’t foresee the need for additional personnel at the ports of entry.

“We’ve been doing this in a kind of iterative process here,” Mocny said during a briefing this morning. “This is just the next logical step in enhancing the security of the U.S. and it does so in a way that we can make sure we also…facilitate legitimate travel and trade. We didn’t do everybody all at once.”

During the briefing, Mocny also said DHS officials are testing scanning devices that would capture 10 fingerprints instead of two to improve the accuracy of identification. Last year, DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff said the department would move in that direction. Mocny also said many other countries are also moving toward a 10-fingerprint scan process.

“We now have three devices we’re looking at,” he said. “We’re looking for more. It’s a good news story and it really is something where we believe that we can have something in place, certainly in pilot mode in 2007 and then hopefully get deployment in 2008 and 2009 depending upon the money flows.”

Sarkar is a freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C.

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