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New Security Steps

Aired January 5, 2004 - 08:06   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Here's Tom Ridge now with the announcement.
TOM RIDGE, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: ... many of you just demonstrated. U.S. 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, at least the folks who live in the Atlanta region, the site of this airport was originally a motor speedway. While today's NASCAR fans might argue with me, it's pretty 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 1925.

Today, this has become the busiest passenger airport in the world. More than five 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.

But unfortunately some people have sought to take advantage of our open arms and our welcoming shores. So we must continue to protect our citizens and protect our visitors from those who wish us harm. Today I am proud to launch U.S. Visit, a new national program to help secure our borders and facilitate legitimate travel and trade.

U.S. Visit will allow customs and border protection officers to focus on at risk travelers, while speeding the entry of everyone else. And at the same time, the program will protect the integrity of our immigration system by confirming a visitor's identity and ensuring they adhere to our visa policies.

The program has been tested right here in Atlanta for several weeks and it has been a resounding success. While processing more than 20,000 travelers during that time, U.S. Visit has matched 21 hits on the FBI criminal watch lists, 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 around 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, I might add, familiar to international travelers, customs and border protection officers will now capture an inkless digital fingerprint, or finger scan, 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 it takes just a couple of seconds.

In fact, during the pilot tests 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 very small amount of time, we are adding an important layer of security.

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, U.S. Visit actually adds a layer of privacy for visitors by protecting them from identity theft or lost or stolen travel documents.

However, U.S. 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, and that's at the heart of what U.S. Visit is all about.

And I'm joined here this morning by the commissioner of border and customs protection, Rob Bonner, who has been an innovative leader not just with regard to U.S. Visit, but so many other areas where we've tried to create a single face at the border, to create smart borders. And U.S. Visit is just another one of these innovations.

And to my left, Jim Williams, who was given mission impossible just a couple of months ago and said not only do we need this entry- exit system, the U.S. Visit system, but we're going to add another layer of complication by saying Jim, we want you to create a system that has a biometric identifier. And he took on that mission and there were a lot of people that said he couldn't accomplish it, but he and his team have done it at the time arranged...

HEMMER: There's the news from Atlanta, Tom Ridge announcing the fingerprinting program to go into effect starting today.


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