The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in a joint effort with the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that integrated ten-print biometric identification technology is operating in every U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Border Patrol station throughout the country.
The newly advanced capability allows CBP Border Patrol agents to simultaneously search the FBI's fingerprint database. The Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) and DHS's Automated Biometric Identification System (IDENT) provides rapid identification of individuals with outstanding criminal warrants through electronic comparison of ten-print digital fingerscans against a vast nationwide database of previously captured fingerprints (roughly 10 million prints are stored by the FBI).
"This capability is a fast effective weapon in the war on terror. It allows law enforcement personnel to thoroughly check immigration and criminal backgrounds of people that have entered the U.S. illegally," said Border and Transportation Security Under Secretary Asa Hutchinson. "Its implementation is absolutely critical to our priority mission to protect our borders, and today we are pleased to announce that deployment was completed ahead of schedule."
The IDENT/IAFIS program began as a pilot in the San Diego Border Patrol Sectors Brown Field Station and the Calexico Port of Entry in August 2001. By the end of 2003, the program had evolved and was installed at 31 Border Patrol Stations and 48 ports of entry. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge committed to deploying IDENT/IAFIS to 70% of CBP Border Patrol Stations by the end of the 2004 calendar year.
As of September 2004 , the IDENT/IAFIS program is fully operational within all 148 Border Patrol stations and is in the process of being deployed to all the ports of entry nationwide, exceeding DHS's prior commitment by bringing the deployment instead to 100% of Border Patrol stations months ahead of schedule. As part of US-VISIT deployment, all 115 air and sea ports of entry and the busiest 50 land border ports of entry will have this capability by November 15, 2004. In 2005 remaining ports of entry and all Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) field locations will plan for deployment.
As a result of IAFIS technology, CBP Border Patrol agents have arrested: 138 homicide suspects; 67 kidnapping suspects; 226 sexual assault suspects; 431 robbery suspects; 2,342 suspects for assaults of other types; and 4,801 suspected traffickers of dangerous narcotics. The IDENT system which forms the backbone of the US-VISIT program has identified 287 criminals and other inadmissible aliens seeking admission to the U.S.
This new ability to ID so quickly and accurately those apprehended for illegal border crossings gives Border Patrol agents an unbeatable new tool in their efforts to stop potential terrorists, criminals, or anyone else trying to enter the country who should be arrested, deported, or denied entry.
How it works: When a Border Patrol agent detains someone, the agent can take a live-scanned fingerprint of the suspect on the spot, and with the new technology, compare that print instantly against a databse of previously captured fingerprints. The agent would learn within minutes whether that person has a criminal record or is wanted anywhere in the country on an outstanding warrant.
Until IAFIS was deployed at Border Patrol stations, getting back a positive hit - that is, definitive identity information - could take from eight days to three months. That was clearly much too long a wait for agents who needed to decide right away whether to deny entry, send the person back, or detain him or her. It took that long because agents usually had to compare - via the old-fashioned, pre-electronic, highly inaccurate eyeball method-inked fingerprints on cards with possibly imperfect index-print scans. This method also assumed that the inked prints were not smudged or incomplete and that the agent was a fingerprint expert, a skill we now acknowledge as a specialty unto itself. Agents also had to wait for fingerprint cards to be faxed, which could distort the image of prints even further, or sent by snail mail. This lack of cutting-edge automation meant that our uniformed men and women spent more time poring over cards and papers with less time available to spend on patrol, inspection, interdictions and apprehensions.
Further complications included the fact that people trying to enter the country illegally were not about to give a Border Patrol agent their real name. Whatever name an illegal migrant did give the agent may or may not have been immediately verifiable through fingerprints. Yet agents had to decide whether to hold the person or let them go.
With IDENT/IAFIS, now all a Border Patrol agent needs to do is take a fingerprint scan. That person's criminal history, if there is one, and outstanding warrants are immediately accessible.
The ability to cross-reference millions of criminal records in a matter of minutes is more important than ever: Terrorists know that thousands of illegal immigrants try to cross the southern border every day, and they are trying to blend in with the crowd.
IDENT is 10 years old. Its original purpose, identifying immigration violators and hard-core criminals, has been superceded by the need to identify terrorists.
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