Can INS handle alien entry plan?

The Justice Department's plan to fingerprint and photograph aliens of national security concern, in attorney general John Ashcroft's words, has raised doubts about the ability of the Immigration and Naturalization Service to handle the job.

The registration plan calls for aliens who meet as-yet-undefined criteria that identify them as security concerns to be photographed and fingerprinted when entering the country with valid visas. Some foreigners now in the country holding visas in good standing also would be asked to provide fingerprints and photographs, Ashcroft said.

Justice attorneys who framed the proposal were not aware that the INS' Computerized Applicant Information Management System already holds photographs of aliens and has been modified to hold fingerprints, an official with oversight responsibilities in the area said. But 'the INS logistically isn't staffed to implement Ashcroft's proposal,' the official said.

Lacking staff

INS lacks the staff and resources to operate the system at all 300 U.S. ports of entry, he said. He added that the State Department has a system, run by bonded contractors, that includes biometric identification cards for Mexican nationals who are allowed to enter parts of the United States at will.

The State system operates under a special agreement with Mexico and gives about 6 million people legal access to the United States. 'The question is, why doesn't [Ashcroft] just extend this?' the official said.

Under the INS plan, state and local law enforcement officials would be requested to help Justice implement the program and track down aliens who fail to abide by its requirements. Ashcroft said Justice would enter the names of those who fail to meet the requirements into the FBI's National Crime Information Center system. Authority for the new regulations stems from the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, which requires aliens in the United States to register annually via the Postal Service.

Enforcement of that requirement lapsed in the early 1990s as INS leadership shifted resources to other areas and the flow of illegal immigrants into the country increased. But thousands of aliens continue to send in postcards annually that verify their visa status and residence, the official said.

INS has not maintained databases of the residual flow of alien registration documents. INS officials did not respond to requests for comment.

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