Hill to DHS: Fix border databases

Tom Ridge

Henrik G. de Gyor

A senior lawmaker this month demanded that the Homeland Security Department speed integration of criminal and immigration databases so Border Patrol agents can nab felons trying to sneak into the country.

Rep. Harold Rogers (R-Ky.), chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, denounced DHS' failure to merge the Ident database, created by the former Immigration and Naturalization Service, with the FBI's Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System. INS and the FBI began working on a project to integrate the two systems several years ago, long before DHS subsumed INS.

'The Justice Department inspector general 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 said this month at a subcommittee hearing. 'Why can't we just get this fixed?'

Four more years

DHS secretary Tom Ridge said he disagreed with the IG's conclusion that integrating the databases could take another four years. Rogers said he blames bureaucratic bungling and told Ridge Congress is looking to him to make sure the databases are integrated.

Ridge responded that 'I think we can make a significant number of connections' be-tween the two databases quickly. 'I assure you it will not take four years to hook it up.'

But, Ridge added, 'We will not have an integrated defense of the border until all' watch list databases are available to border agents. 'We will work to get them connected long before the unacceptable four-year time frame the inspector general suggested it might take.'

In the interim, the department has set up systems that let agents at 20 processing centers tap the two databases, said Asa Hutchinson, undersecretary for border and transportation security. By the end of the year, DHS plans to expand the capability to 100 centers, he said.

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