DHS slammed on database merger

The chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security yesterday cited a gruesome assault by a deported felon in denouncing the administration's failure to provide FBI fingerprint data to the Border Patrol.

Homeland Security Department secretary Tom Ridge, appearing before the subcommittee, rejected the charge leveled by Rep Harold Rogers (R-Ky.) as well as the Justice Department inspector general's report that integrating the databases involved could take another four years.

Rogers cited Tuesday's inspector general report in his condemnation of DHS and Justice's failure to establish connections between the FBI Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System database and the DHS IDENT system, also known as the Automated Biometric Identification System.

Border Patrol agents caught Victor Manual Batres, a Mexican citizen, twice in two days as he tried to enter the country from Mexico in January 2002, according to the IG report. Neither time did Border Patrol officers check the FBI's IAFIS database for information about Batres, who had a 15-year criminal history including several aggravated felony convictions and at least one prior deportation.

Batres voluntarily returned to Mexico and crossed the border illegally in September 2002, the IG said. He traveled to Oregon and brutally raped two Catholic nuns, strangling one of them with her rosary. Batres is serving a life sentence for murder without possibility of parole, according to the report.

If the Border Patrol agents had had access to IAFIS, the IG said, they could have detained Batres for re-entry after deportation, which is easy to prove and generally carries a stiff prison term.

'The Justice Department IG has just issued a report that we are vulnerable to infiltration by terrorists and criminals because of delays in making FBI fingerprint data available to the Border Patrol,' Rogers told Ridge during the hearing. 'Why can't we just get this fixed?' Rogers said he lays the blame on 'bureaucratic bungling' and told Ridge, 'We are looking to you' to integrate the databases.

Ridge responded, 'I think we can make a significant number of connections' between the two databases quickly. 'I assure you it will not take four years to hook it up.' But, he added, 'We will not have an integrated defense of the border until all' watch list databases are available to Border Patrol agents. 'We will work to get them connected long before the unacceptable four-year time frame the inspector general suggested it might take,' he said.

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