The U.S. Department of Homeland Security says its new entry and exit program
has already helped make America safer. The program nevertheless has its share
of critics and even its supports say more work must be done to ensure its success.
Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge observing new security measure
The two-month-old U.S. VISIT program requires photographing and fingerprinting
almost all foreign visitors who require a visa to enter the United States.
The government says one of its aims is to make U.S. citizens and visitors more
Speaking at a forum at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, C.
Stewart Verdery from the Department of Homeland Security, said 1.8 million
people have already been processed at U.S. airports through the program. And
he said by examining characteristics unique to each human, a technique known
as biometrics, the program has already pinpointed some convicted drug traffickers,
rapists and escapees from federal prison.
"We have had over 150 watch list hits, and these are people who are caught
solely due to the biometric... These are people that would have been admitted
except for the finger scan that caught them," he said.
Mr. Verdery acknowledged, though, that the new program has not caught a known
terrorist trying to enter the country. This and other factors have led to criticism
of the venture.
Although the program is wide-reaching, there are 27 countries, mostly in
Europe, that are exempted through a visa waiver program.
The issue is further complicated because although almost all current European
Union members are exempted, only one of the bloc's new member countries, Slovenia,
is part of the waiver program. That means that come May 1, when the new members
are formally admitted to the EU, there will be several eastern European countries
that are EU members, but will face immigration scrutiny that their fellow members
A former deputy minister of Poland, Radek Sikorski, says the situation is
a paradox. He says new EU member countries, which have not produced a single
terrorism suspect, must have visas to come to the United States and are subjected
to the humiliating treatment of being fingerprinted and photographed. But,
he adds "...that citizens of countries where there are large Islamic communities
- that is to say the citizens of Britain, France and Germany - come to this
country right now without visas, and without being fingerprinted or photographed.
That simply does not make sense and is causing a sense of unfairness in those
The European Commission's Director-General of Justice and Home Affairs, Jonathan
Faull, says he sympathizes with critics' complaints that the situation is hard
to understand. But he says the European Union is a work in progress. Discussion
and outreach, he adds, are key.
"What is important in all of these areas is again, things should be properly
explained," he said. "That we are not differentiating and discriminating for
the sake of it, for the hell of it, but because certain things still remain
to be assessed, examined and finally set in place."
Mr. Faull says the European Commission is working with the United States
to make sure both the U.S. and EU borders are secure.
Mr. Verdery of the Department of Homeland Security agrees. He says the U.S.
VISIT program has a long way to go, and sorting out how to handle the visa
waiver countries is one of the main issues about the program that must be addressed