Security deadlines for immigration processes at risk

The deadline for an entry-exit system to track foreigners coming to the United States through airports and seaports is attainable, but getting a system in place at all land entry points by December 2005 is at risk, according to Asa Hutchinson, the undersecretary for border and transportation security at the Homeland Security Department.

Adding biometric requirements to the entry-exit process, as was legislated in the USA Patriot Act, the Enhanced Border Security Act and Visa Entry Reform Act over the past 18 months, has complicated the effort to get a comprehensive system in place, Hutchinson told Congress last week. He testified March 12 before the Senate Judiciary subcommittees on terrorism, technology and homeland security, and border security, immigration and citizenship.

There are three deadlines that immigration officials are trying to meet for the entry-exit system. By Dec. 31, a system must be in place to track foreigners entering and leaving the country by commercial flight or sea-going vessel. Hutchinson said this is attainable.

But the remaining two deadlines - extending the entry-exit system to the 50 largest land ports of entry by Dec. 31, 2004, and to all land ports of entry by one year after that - will be "a greater challenge," Hutchinson said, because new systems and infrastructure are needed that don't exist today.

Another witness, Stephen Flynn, a senior fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, testified that the United States remains dangerously unprepared for acts of terrorism, and will continue to be at risk until the federal government makes serious commitments in manpower and funding.

If one removes Transportation Security Administration employees from the total, the number of field agents securing the nation's borders is fewer than the number of officers in the New York City Police Department, Flynn said.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld testified last month that the Defense Department spends $5 billion on security for military bases, 20 percent of which the military doesn't need. Yet Congress is talking about allocating just $100 million to security for seaports, Flynn said as another example.

"We haven't got used to spending the resources needed," said Sen. John Kyl, R-Ariz. "We have to do a lot more, and a lot more quickly than we're used to."

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