U.S. Visit to expand border screening

Legal permanent residents and some other foreigners would be added to the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology program's border screening process under a newly proposed regulation.

DHS officials already have prepared their systems for the additional processing work, acting program director Robert Mocny told reporters today.

'We always plan ahead on the computer systems that we use, so this has been in the planning stages for a while now,' Mocny said.

'We have the requisite IT support systems in place. We are not talking about tens of millions [of foreigners]; we're talking about a million-plus individuals who cross [the U.S. border] on a regular basis. So the numbers aren't that big,' he said.

According to Mocny, there are about 8 million to 12 million legal permanent residents in the country.

The proposed rule, published in today's Federal Register, would expand U.S. Visit's coverage to include:
  • Legal permanent residents
  • Applicants for immigrant visas
  • Refugees and people seeking asylum
  • Some categories of Canadians who receive I-94 entry forms at the border, including nurses and religious workers but not most tourists
  • Foreigners entering under 'immigration parole' status (Individuals ineligible to enter the United States as refugees, immigrants or nonimmigrants may be 'paroled' into the country by the secretary of Homeland Security.)
  • Applicants for admission under the Guam Visa Waiver program.


Mocny noted that the U.S. Visit program had progressively expanded its coverage by increasing its processing technology and categories of foreigners screened.

U.S. Visit now screens all foreign visitors, with limited exceptions and regardless of nationality, who enter via air, sea or land. The program exempts those younger than age 14 and older than 79.

The proposed regulation would ensure that 'once a person gets a legal permanent resident card it, cannot be used by anyone else, cannot be stolen and cannot be used by someone masquerading as that person,' Mocny said.

The proposed screening expansion would actually save time at border crossing points by reducing the number of travelers who pass through 'secondary,' more detailed processing by Customs and Border Protection officials, Mocny said.

DHS officials already have 10-fingerprint data files for legal permanent residents, Mocny noted. Those residents constitute the majority of the travelers who would fall under the new processing requirements.

Mocny noted that U.S. Visit systems now scan only two fingerprints for most of the travelers it covers.

Part of the reason for Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff's announcement in August 2005 that DHS would adopt 10-fingerprint scanning methods like those used by the FBI is the increasing difficulty of using two-fingerprint methods to distinguishing among the growing number of files, Mocny said.

DHS is operating 10-fingerprint scanners in pilots now and plans to deploy them in 2008 or 2009, he said.

'We are in a process with the FBI to have interoperability with the [Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System that flags people who are wanted or have arrest warrants],' Mocny said.

As the FBI upgrades IAFIS, the department's systems will gain the so-called 'rapback' function that the bureau plans to add to its fingerprint database management systems, he said.

That capability will provide a signal back to the FBI and DHS when a previously fingerprinted and cleared individual, such as a legal permanent resident, a child care worker or a federal employee, falls afoul of the law after their initial clearance begins, Mocny said.

'For example, if a person becomes a legal permanent resident in 1980 and then commits a crime in 1985, with rapback we will have the ability to deliver [that information to the U.S. Visit systems],' Mocny said.

The regulation provides for a comment period ending August 28. DHS officials expect to launch the new processing methods next year.

Existing laws provide DHS with the authority for the newly proposed regulation, Mocny said.

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