Plans to remake INS emphasize IT

GCN Photo by Henrik G. DeGyor

Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr. says the bills require changes in systems now run by INS.

Congress is poised to break up the Immigration and Naturalization Service and order construction of a new generation of systems for border control.

The House last month voted to abolish INS and turn over border enforcement and immigration services to two new bureaus within the Justice Department, a Citizenship and Immigration Services Bureau and an Immigration Enforcement Bureau.

The action on HR 3231 followed by a week the Senate's passage of the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act, HR 3525, which the House has already passed.

Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and one of the authors of the INS Reorganization Act, said IT improvements are critical to both his bill and the border security bill.

'There is a requirement to automate' in both pieces of legislation, Sensenbrenner said. 'Most people who are standing in line at INS offices are seeking information. If this is online or available by phone, they will not have to wait for hours. Automation is a key.'

Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, ranking Democrat on the committee, expressed concern about INS officials' technology skills. 'We not only don't have high-tech systems but don't have managers that can deal with high technology,' he said.

The border security bill details stringent technological requirements for the issuance of visas. It would direct the State Department to provide the Citizenship and Immigration Services Bureau with an electronic version of each visa applicant's file before a person enters the United States.

The bill also sets forth a data interoperability standard to be used in the system INS is developing to track foreign visitors' entries and exits. Dubbed Chimera, the system would use a cross-platform standard that Congress mandated in the antiterrorism USA Patriot Act passed last fall.

The border security bill also would establish a Commission on Interoperable Data Sharing to oversee Chimera and to review issues such as privacy, security standards and protections against misuse.

Biometric IDs

The measure also details algorithms to be used in Chimera to account for variant spellings in languages used by visa applicants. It calls for the use of three types of biometric identifiers for visa applicants: fingerprints, face recognition and a third method yet to be chosen.

Another systems upgrade required by the bill calls for arriving ships and planes by Jan. 1 to begin transferring their passenger manifests to immigration officials electronically.

Chimera would build on and likely replace the current system used to track visas, the Interagency Border Inspection System.

IBIS, used by some 20 federal agencies as well as INS, has been criticized for failing to keep track of foreign entrants.

Judy Golub, senior director of advocacy at the American Immigration Lawyers Association, blamed lawmakers for previously giving the agency 'unfunded impossible mandates,' but added, 'I think the border security bill will help develop the technological capacity that is very much needed and was not funded before.'

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