Coast Guard to expand biometric project

TAMPA, Fla. ' Noting a drop of 75 percent in the number of illegal immigrants attempting to cross the Mona Passage from the Dominican Republic into Puerto Rico in the past two years, project leader Thomas Amerson described the Coast Guard's Biometrics-at-Sea Program as an obvious success.

Although not claiming that the Coast Guard's biometric program is solely responsible for the drop in the flow of immigrants, Amerson told attendees at the Biometric Consortium Conference that he would 'like to think that biometrics have something to do with that.'

Personnel on Coast Guard cutters that patrol the passage use handheld devices to record the fingerprints of illegal immigrants before returning them to the Dominican Republic or, in the event of repeat offenders, retaining them for prosecution. The United States also makes extensive efforts to publicize the interdictions, the biometric program and prosecutions in an effort to deter others from attempting the risky crossing, Amerson added.

He said that in the two years the program has been in place, biometric data has been collected on 1,957 people. Of that number, 459 were identified as having been previously intercepted. He also said there had been 171 prosecutions, compared to only a single prosecution in the year before the program started.

The Coast Guard is expanding the program to include cutters based at several ports in Florida, and Amerson said officials plan to expand both of those deployments and extend database integration to other agencies and services.

About the Author

Patrick Marshall is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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