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Homeland Security

05 January 2004

Homeland Security Chief Launches New Border Entry Procedures

      US-VISIT makes borders open to visitors, closed to terrorists
      U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge was at one of the 
      nation's business airports January 5 for the launch of new border entry 
      procedures that are supposed to improve security while still allowing 
      smooth entry for legitimate friendly visitors. 
      Travelers entering the United States with a visa will be subject to the 
      new procedures called US-VISIT. The system employs biometrics -- the 
      individual's unique physical characteristics -- to ensure that the person 
      entering the United States is the same person who applied for and received 
      a visa issued by U.S. authorities in his home country.
      The new system was put into effect at 115 airports and 14 seaports January 
      5. It will also be put in place at land ports -- highway crossings from 
      the United States into Canada and Mexico -- by the end of 2005.
      "Legitimate travelers who fall into America's open arms should know that 
      they have nothing to fear in this new system," said Ridge in remarks 
      delivered at the airport in Atlanta, Georgia. "It is only the smallest 
      fraction of visitors to our country that may be involved in terrorism, but 
      our job at the Department of Homeland Security is to be sure they are 
      US-VISIT was introduced on an experimental basis at Atlanta's Hartsfield 
      airport in November. In screening 20,000 passengers since then, Ridge said 
      the system has helped identify 21 individuals on criminal watch lists 
      maintained by federal law enforcement.
      Following are the prepared remarks of Secretary Ridge:
      (begin text)
      U.S. Department of Homeland Security
      January 5, 2004
      Atlanta, GA -- Good morning, it is a pleasure to be here at Atlanta 
      International Airport to announce the launch of US-VISIT, the important 
      new technology that you just saw demonstrated.
      US-VISIT will help secure our borders and speed the entry of legitimate 
      travelers at airports and seaports around the country.
      As many of you might know, the site of this airport was originally a motor 
      speedway. While today's NASCAR fans might argue with me, it is clear that 
      Mayor William Hartsfield brought the future to Atlanta when he encouraged 
      the city to convert the little used racetrack into an airport back in 
      Today, this has become the busiest passenger airport in the world. More 
      than 5 million of those passengers arrive in Atlanta from abroad, on 
      airlines from Air Canada to South African Airways.
      They come to the United States to visit family, to conduct business, and 
      in many cases -- to live the American Dream. It is a dream built by a 
      nation of immigrants on a foundation of equality and opportunity for all.
      That is why we welcome visitors of every variety -- students, tourists, 
      and businesspeople from Andorra to Zimbabwe.
      Unfortunately, some people have sought to take advantage of our open arms 
      and welcoming shores -- so we must continue to protect our citizens and 
      visitors from those who wish us harm.
      Today, I am proud to launch US-VISIT, a new national program to help 
      secure our borders and facilitate legitimate travel and trade.
      US-VISIT will allow Customs and Border Protection Officers to focus on 
      "at-risk" travelers, while speeding the entry of everyone else. At the 
      same time, the program will protect the integrity of our immigration 
      system by confirming a visitor's identity and ensuring that they adhere to 
      visa policies.
      The program has been tested right here in Atlanta for several weeks -- and 
      it has been a success.
      While processing more than 20,000 travelers during that time, US-VISIT has 
      matched 21 hits on the FBI's criminal watch list -- including potential 
      entrants with previous convictions for statutory rape, dangerous drugs, 
      aggravated felonies, and several cases of visa fraud.
      Starting today, we are introducing this critical new technology at 115 
      airports across the country, as well as in cruise ship terminals at 14 
      U.S. seaports. It is part of a comprehensive program to ensure that our 
      borders remain open to visitors, but closed to terrorists.
      For the first time, we will be collecting biometric data on travelers 
      arriving in and departing from the United States on a visa.
      In addition to the entry procedures already in place and familiar to 
      international travelers, Customs and Border Protection Officers will now 
      capture an inkless digital fingerprint -- or "fingerscan" -- as well as a 
      digital photograph to be matched against information gathered at 
      visa-issuing posts overseas.
      As you saw in the demonstration, it's easy for travelers to use, but hard 
      for terrorists to avoid -- and takes just a couple of seconds.
      In fact, during the pilot test here in Atlanta only 15 seconds were added 
      to processing times, bringing the total entry procedure to just more than 
      one minute.
      However, in that small amount of time we are adding an important layer of 
      Legitimate travelers who fall into America's open arms should know that 
      they have nothing to fear in this new system. Information gathered will be 
      kept strictly to authorized officials on a need-to-know basis and will be 
      governed by the Privacy Act at all times.
      In fact, US-VISIT actually adds a layer of privacy for visitors by 
      protecting them from identity theft, or lost or stolen travel documents.
      However, US-VISIT will not be kind to those who think that privacy can 
      hide their hate or their intention to harm.
      It is only the smallest fraction of visitors to our country that may be 
      involved in terrorism, but our job at the Department of Homeland Security 
      is to be sure they are stopped. Obviously, one of the best ways is to 
      prevent them from entering in the first place.
      US-VISIT will ensure that we not only protect the homeland, but preserve 
      the qualities that define our great country. We will rely on new 
      technology and the reliable standard of professionalism from Customs and 
      Border Protection Officers to keep America's doors open and our nation 
      more secure.
      America has been -- and always will be -- a welcoming country. But we will 
      also always be on guard -- watchful for the signs of potential acts of 
      terrorism. In a post 9-11 world, we have been forced to find new ways to 
      confront new challenges.
      We have met every challenge we have faced, and done so with cautious 
      respect for the elements that make our country worth protecting -- civil 
      liberties, democracy, and above all, freedom.
      Today's announcement is no different. We have carefully addressed the 
      mandate to secure our borders and maintain the open doors that strengthen 
      the fabric of our society.
      With the launch of US-VISIT, our doors remain open to those who love 
      America, open to those who seek opportunity, and open to our economic 
      partners around the world. And yet, it pulls the welcome mat from 
      terrorists and all those who seek this nation and its people harm.
      Let there be no doubt -- this is a great step forward in the preservation 
      of our security -- yet another protective measure that better secures our 
      citizens, better speeds the process for visitors, and further helps us 
      preserve a country that has, must and always will be -- safe and free.
      (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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