New figures from the Department of Homeland Security indicate the number of people
being sent for secondary screening at U.S. border entry points has increased
dramatically over the past two years. Officials say the increased numbers are
the result of heightened security and improved technology.
|Tom Ridge observing
new security measure at airport
The number of people being sent for secondary screening at U.S. border entry
points jumped by 500,000 between 2002 and 2003.
Zachary Mann, a senior special agent and spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border
Protection in the Department of Homeland Security, says Customs and Border
Patrol agents are being much more cautious about who enters the United States
following the September 11 terrorist attacks.
"What happened is that after the attacks we decided we needed to take a closer
look at our borders, so we have had an increase in the scrutiny of people and
cargo crossing those borders," he said.
According to Mr. Mann, much of the increased scrutiny is taking place at
land crossing points along the U.S.-Canada border, where there was little scrutiny
before the September 11 attacks. He also says while Border Patrol and Customs
agents still look for drug smugglers and visa violators, their priorities before
September 11, their main preoccupation now is to prevent terrorists or terrorist-related
materials from entering the U.S.
Mr. Mann says much of the reason for the increase in secondary screening
is that customs officers have a limited amount of time to process visitors
at their first point of contact, so secondary screening becomes necessary.
"When you come across the border whether it is an airport, a seaport or a
land border crossing, you go through a primary line, which is where you present
your documents," he explained. "You are asked some questions by the first officer
you see. Based on those responses you maybe someone that we want to look at
more closely or talk to. That does not necessarily mean that there is something
wrong, it is just that we want to get a better picture and we have a very limited
amount of time to process a large amount of people. So what we do is send you
to a secondary booth where someone will talk to you and find out a little bit
more about you and then based on what happens there if you are a criminal wanted
by law enforcement you will be arrested, or if it turns out it was just a misunderstanding,
you will probably be set free and to about your way. There is a wide variety
of things that can happen - it is a case by case scenario."
Customs officials also say they have improved databases that now hold many
more names of suspected criminals and terrorists, which has also led to more
people being sent for secondary inspections and interviews.
The September 11 terrorist attacks exposed flaws in the screening of visitors
to the United States. Two of the 19 hijackers who carried out the attacks were
admitted to the U.S. despite undergoing secondary screening for visa violations.
Earlier this month, U.S. immigration authorities further tightened security
by requiring some foreign visitors at border entry points to be photographed
and fingerprinted when they enter the United States. Customs and immigration
officials say the process takes less than a minute, and so far the program
has not resulted in substantial delays for visitors.