A Department of Homeland Security (DHS) program that collects biometric and biographic data from visa applicants and visitors to the United States has achieved unprecedented results in helping U.S. agencies identify criminals and other violators seeking entry to the country, senior DHS officials announced today. On Sunday evening, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officers sent a Swiss national, suspected of being a pedophile, back to France as his fingerprints indicated that he was wanted by Interpol.
Created in January 2004 and administered by DHS, the US-VISIT Program is a continuum of security measures that collects biometric data, such as fingerprints, and biographic information from visitors at U.S. visa-issuing posts worldwide and upon their arrival at and departure from U.S. air, sea, and land ports.
In the 17 months since US-VISIT was created, the matching of fingerprints and biographic information against the US-VISIT database has enabled State Department consular officers around the word to deny U.S. visas to approximately 7,000 visa applicants. More than a third of these visas were denied because the applicants’ fingerprints matched those on various U.S. government law enforcement and security lists.
At the same time, fingerprints and other data from US-VISIT have enabled inspectors from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to deny entry to approximately 594 people who arrived at U.S. borders seeking to enter the country. CBP is the unified border agency within DHS charged with the management, control and protection of our nation’s borders at and between the official ports of entry.
Furthermore, the US-VISIT program has helped special agents from U.S.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrest approximately 39 people through fingerprint matches, investigative leads and other information. ICE isthe largest investigative arm of DHS, with broad responsibilities for a number of key homeland security priorities.
“There is no question that the use of biometrics, combined with strong cooperation among the many entities that make up our immigration and border management system, helps us achieve the national security goals of the nation,” said Jim Williams, director of US-VISIT. “This is one critical way we can stop potential threats to our citizens and visitors.”
“In the past, criminals and others who were the subject of lookouts needed only a new name to slip across our borders. With US-VISIT, fingerprints reveal the true identity underneath any alias,” said Michael J. Garcia, the DHS Assistant Secretary for ICE.
The results are directly attributable to enhanced sharing of biometric data and other information between domestic and international organizations. There is broad cooperation among such organizations to share information and match fingerprints against existing data sources. These data sources include Interpol data on criminals and wanted fugitives; the Department of State’s lost and stolen passport information; the FBI’s known or wanted terrorist list; and other systems. Each of these entities uses fingerprints as its main biometric tool.
Both the 9/11 Commission and the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism
Prevention Act of 2004 stressed the need for improved information sharing and cooperation among law enforcement and intelligence entities. Progress has been made toward that end, and the enforcement results of US-VISIT serve as concrete examples. By capturing biometrics from visitors seeking entry to the United States, US-VISIT deprives criminals and potential terrorists of the ability to cross U.S. borders using fraudulent documents and to violate immigration laws without detection.
The State Department, CBP, ICE and other U.S. government entities rely upon the biometric and biographic data contained in US-VISIT to assist them in their daily operations. This vital information was unavailable to them until the launch of US-VISIT.