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Homeland Security

Washington File

19 May 2003

Hutchinson Says New System Provides America with "Smart Border"

(US VISIT to use biometric features to identify foreign visitors) (2700)
A U.S. official says a new entry-exit program called US VISIT is part
of a comprehensive information system that will provide the United
States with a "smart border" that expedites legitimate trade and
travel, but stops terrorists in their tracks.
Asa Hutchinson, under secretary of border and transportation security
at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said May 19 that the US
VISIT system -- to be installed at U.S. airports and seaports by
January 1, 2004 -- will be based on visas that include biometric
features such as fingerprints and photographs to permit identification
of foreign visitors when they arrive.
Hutchinson, who spoke at a forum sponsored by the Center for Strategic
and International Studies, said this information would be available at
U.S. ports of entry as well as throughout the entire immigration
enforcement system. "Through this 'virtual border,' we will know who
violates our entry requirements, who overstays or violates the terms
of their stay, and who should be welcome again," he said.
Hutchinson said foreign visitors would be identified through a minimum
of two biometric identifiers -- initially fingerprints and
photographs; later, as the technology is perfected, additional forms
such as facial recognition or iris scans may be used as well.
He also said his department would be working with the State Department
to encourage countries that are granted visa waivers to use
tamper-proof passports that include biometric identifiers as soon as
In explaining how the system will work, Hutchinson said a foreign
visitor's travel documents will be scanned when he or she arrives at a
U.S. airport or seaport. Then, once a photo and fingerprint are taken,
the person will be checked against lists of those who should be denied
entry for any reason -- for example, terrorist connections, criminal
violations or past visa violations.
Congress has appropriated nearly $400 million for this year alone to
establish the US VISIT system at airports and seaports, and an effort
is under way in Congress to establish the system at major land ports
of entry.
Following is the text of Hutchinson's prepared remarks:
(begin text)
[Center for Strategic and International Studies]
May 19, 2003
Washington, D.C. -- At the Department of Homeland Security my
responsibility centers on the borders of the United States. What we do
at our borders impacts our security, our economy and our relationship
with the international community.
For that reason, I am grateful for this opportunity to talk about the
future of our borders at CSIS. Your scholarly and bipartisan approach
is the right mix for border policy discussions
At the turn of the last century, the heart of America was defined by
Emma Lazarus's inspiring words affixed to the Statue of Liberty: "Give
me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe
A century later, the yearning has not changed -- nor has America's
heart. As last week's tragedy in Texas reminds us, people still risk
their lives for the freedom and opportunity America offers. In that
case, 18 immigrants died in a suffocating tractor-trailer. Five of the
nine suspects are in custody. Our hearts and prayers go out to those
men and women who were so cruelly and criminally abandoned by their
Immigrants still search for the American Dream. And when they find it,
all Americans benefit.
That is because immigrants don't just contribute to our country, they
help define our character and they help defend our freedoms. It was
Irving Berlin, a Russian/Jewish immigrant who wrote, "God Bless
America." And we could not watch "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," if
not for Frank Capra, an Italian-American who rode in steerage to
America at age six.
President Bush was right when he said immigrants "make our nation
more, not less, American."
Of course, immigrant soldiers also defend our freedoms. And I am proud
that our Department has granted citizenship, in some cases
posthumously, to several in that war.
We should remember that immigrants and naturalized citizens make up
about five percent of our armed forces
Marine Lance Corporal Jose Gutierrez, a citizen of Guatemala and
resident of California died in Iraq, a family member said, "He wanted
to give back to a nation that gave him so much."
Truly, immigrants have contributed greatly to our nation
Today, however, we face new and unprecedented dangers. Some who cross
our borders do not yearn to breathe free -- they yearn to destroy
freedom. They do not seek a better life -- but an opportunity to
weaken America and to take innocent lives.
On September 11th, 2001, nineteen terrorists took advantage of our
welcoming nature ... and took the lives of 3,000 of our fellow
citizens -- and, I might add, citizens from other nations, too. Many
of the 19 hijackers had violated the terms of their visa -- and nearly
all had incomplete or incorrect application forms.
It should be noted that one of the hijackers, Hani Hanjour, had
violated the terms of his student visa, not showing up to school as
required. Another, Mohammed Atta, had overstayed his visa on a
previous occasion, and violated his current tourist visa by taking
flying lessons. Both could have been stopped by an effective US VISIT
Our immigration policies must recognize and reflect this new reality.
Congress has directed us to improve the system and make it work. The
Department of Homeland Security has a unique opportunity to fulfill
that mission. It's never been more important that we do so.
Earlier this month, Secretary Ridge announced that the Department of
Homeland Security would meet the deadline given to us by Congress to
install an entry-exit system at America's airports and seaports by
year's end. This will be done through our US VISIT program.
Today I am pleased to lay out more of the details as to how we will
accomplish that goal, and how our US VISIT system will fit into the
comprehensive border information system necessary to give America a
21st Century "smart border" -- one that speeds through legitimate
trade and travel, but stops terrorists in their tracks. First, let's
look at the system that is needed. Information will be the cornerstone
of this effort. Actually, it's always been that way. In 1819, one of
America's first immigration laws was passed, requiring that ships'
captains provide a list of all passengers brought in on their voyage.
But in the 21st Century, border security can no longer be just a
coastline, or a line on the ground between two nations. It's also a
line of information in a computer, telling us who is in this country,
for how long, and for what reason. We are hiring 1,700 new inspectors
and hundreds of Border Patrol Agents.
In the 21st Century, it is not enough to place inspectors at our ports
of entry to monitor the flow of goods and people. We must also have a
"virtual border" that operates far beyond the land border of the
United States.
Under US VISIT, we will eventually have information on our visitors --
collected by our consular officers far from our borders -- that will
confirm identity, measure security risks and assess the legitimacy of
travel of visitors to the U.S.
For people who require visas, those visas will use biometric features
that will enable us to identify the visitors when they arrive at an
airport or seaport and to access the information about that visitor.
This information will be available at our ports of entry as well as
throughout our entire immigration enforcement system.
Through this "virtual border," we will know who violates our entry
requirements, who overstays or violates the terms of their stay, and
who should be welcome again.
In addition, the DHS will, for the first time, oversee the visa
issuance process. We'll be responsible for maintaining its integrity,
working through and with the consular offices of the U.S. State
Department. This unity of border and visa responsibilities will allow
for a better flow of information and a coordinated response to
immigration violations.
We will also work with State to encourage Visa Waiver countries to use
tamper-proof passports that include biometric identifiers as soon as
possible -- and to consider security needs first when issuing them.
In fact, Visa Waiver countries are required to use biometrics by
10-26-04 -- under Congressional mandate.
As a result, we'll be able to require proof of identification from
foreign national visitors to the U.S. We'll do so through a minimum of
two biometric identifiers -- initially, fingerprints and photographs;
later, as the technology is perfected, additional forms such as facial
recognition or iris scans may be used as well.
Let me add, biometric technology is not new. More than six million
Border Crossing Cards for frequent crossers have been issued in the
last five years, each with two fingerprints and a digital photograph
embedded on the back.
In fact, a recent pilot program to decode the cards resulted in the
capture of 250 impostors trying to cheat the system. We will make sure
that the right equipment and training is in place to make it work on a
large scale.
The business community knows all about biometrics too, and they've
been working long and hard on solutions. As we build US VISIT, we
realize that the best solutions will not come from DC, but from
entrepreneurs. We cannot secure our borders without the initiative and
expertise of the private sector.
And I'm pleased to say that we will work with industry to issue an RFP
by no later than this fall.
This is the overall picture -- let me explain how the first phase of
US VISIT will work.
By January 1st of next year, if a foreign visitor flies into Dulles or
JFK or LAX or another international airport or arrives at a U.S.
seaport- the visitor's travel documents will be scanned. Then, once a
photo and fingerprint are taken, the person will then be checked
against lists of those who should be denied entry for any reason --
terrorist connections, criminal violations, or past visa violations.
The information requested will include immigrant and citizenship
status; nationality; the country of residence; and the person's
address while in the United States. Incomplete information will no
longer be good enough.
In 99.9 percent of the cases, the visitor will simply be wished a good
day and sent on their way. But with that small percentage of "hits,"
our country will be made much safer, and our immigration system will
be given a foundation of integrity that has been lacking for too long.
When that visitor departs, we will verify his or her identity and
capture their departure information. This tells the Department of
Homeland Security if that person entered legally may have stayed
illegally as the 9/11 terrorists did. Currently, there is no way to
know when or even if our visitors leave -- but under US VISIT, that
will change.
US VISIT will not be a static system, but a dynamic one, able to track
changes in immigration status and make updates and adjustments
For example, if a foreign visitor enters on a 90-day tourist visa but
must stay for an emergency medical reason, the system should track it.
Congress has appropriated nearly $400 million for this year alone to
establish it at our airports and seaports.
Our next question is to establish it at the major land ports of entry.
We are communicating with Congress and aggressively building our
capability to meet the challenge.
Our next challenge is this: how do you handle the massive amount of
information that will be generated? That is my next announcement.
The Department of Homeland Security is establishing a new capability
within ICE, our Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement -- an
Office of Compliance. This team of compliance officers will review US
VISIT information on visa violations, analyze it and refer appropriate
leads to our field enforcement units for investigation.
As information increases, the Office of Compliance must grow the
capability to track the cases and refer them, when appropriate, for
All of this information will become part of a foreign visitor's
ongoing travel record, so their correct information can follow them
wherever they go.
The information will be made available to inspectors, agents, consular
officials and others with a true need to know.
Law enforcement will also have access to the information, but only for
strictly defined and limited purposes.
Let me assure you: our Department's Privacy Officer, Nuala O'Connor
Kelly, will closely monitor the effort to safeguard people's
information from misuse.
US VISIT is just the latest step in the DHS's "Information
Modernization." In a very brief time, under the leadership of
Secretary Ridge, we are making great progress in capturing and sharing
information across the entire landscape of homeland security -- from
border and transportation security to critical infrastructure
protection to emergency response.
The common denominator here is integration -- making sure our systems,
technology and people are not limited by unnecessary barriers.
Information is worth very little if it's stuck in an agency
"stovepipe" or trapped in a maze of outdated technology, where the
right people cannot get to it in time to make a difference. US VISIT
will coordinate our border information and our enforcement and
compliance efforts.
Take, for instance, SEVIS [Student and Exchange Visitor Information
System]. SEVIS was designed to let university officials electronically
update us on changes in the status of their international students.
It's a powerful tool for combating fraud. To date, nearly 3,000
"no-show" students have been reported to ICE, allowing us to determine
whether they have violated the law or pose a security risk. Most do
not, of course, but the point is, we cannot rely on guesswork anymore.
Now, some may argue that we're asking for too much information. They
may worry that it could intimidate some people and create a chilling
effect on immigration.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
We're not here to play "gotcha." We would prefer to see the law obeyed
rather than to punish violators. In fact, our compliance officers will
be out in the field, helping foreign students and universities learn
the rules.
We've also invited experts from science and academia to help us speed
up the visa approval process for foreign scholars and teachers who
clearly pose no threat. We welcome students, visitors and business
Ladies and gentlemen, good information does not threaten immigration.
Quite the contrary. The more certain we are about someone's status,
the less likely we are to make a mistake that would jeopardize their
status -- or our safety.
Securing our borders often comes down to making a decision on the
spot, using the best information at hand. The more we are able to
identify people and assess them based on their individual traits, the
less dependent we are on broad, general categories such as national
origin. That makes the system fairer for everyone.
Last week, an al Qaeda leader wrote an e-mail promising a new
"guerrilla war" against Saudi Arabia and the United States. "The list
of assassinations, the raid teams and the martyr operation squads are
ready," he wrote, "the caches of weapons, ammunition, explosives and
bombs are plentiful -- and the authorities cannot uncover them."
One day later, an attack in Saudi Arabia killed 34 people, including
eight Americans.
The war on terrorism will not end quickly. It will take a sustained
national and international effort. But we are ready, not intimidated,
and US VISIT will be an important tool. We now have an opportunity to
learn from past failures. We must not miss this chance.
[In his campaign], President Bush said, "New Americans are not to be
feared as strangers; they are to be welcomed as neighbors."
US VISIT will replace fear with knowledge, protecting Americans while
keeping, to borrow again from Emma Lazarus, our "lamp lifted [high]
beside the Golden Door."
Thank you.
(end text)
(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S.
Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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