DHS consolidates screening efforts

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge recently approved the creation of an office within the Homeland Security Department that will coordinate all screening efforts, said Asa Hutchinson, DHS undersecretary for Border and Transportation Security.

The Office of Screening Coordination is part of the Border and Transportation Security Directorate, Hutchinson said. It will coordinate the efforts of programs such as U.S. Visit, the entry-exit system at air, land and sea borders; the National Targeting Center, which provides targeting technology, methodology and subject-matter expertise to various federal agencies; and the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System II, which identifies potentially dangerous airline travelers.

Hutchinson spoke today at a luncheon held in Washington by the Homeland Security & Defense Business Council.

He said the Homeland Security Department's efforts to cut the number of illegal aliens crossing into Arizona have been successful in some unusual ways. For example, the number of vehicles abandoned by smugglers on an Indian reservation in Arizona has declined 83 percent since DHS has bolstered its enforcement efforts along the Arizona border, Hutchinson said.

On the Arizona border with Mexico, where 40 percent of all illegal border crossings into the United States occur, the government has bolstered border protection with 250 more border patrol officers and this month will begin a pilot test of unmanned aerial vehicles to identify people trying to cross the border illegally, Hutchinson said.

Twenty thousand people try to cross the Arizona border illegally each week, Hutchinson said.

It will soon become more difficult for Mexican citizens to try repeatedly to cross the U.S. border illegally, because the Mexican government has agreed to allow "interior repatriation," Hutchinson said.

Instead of returning the Mexicans to border cities such as Nogales, Mexico, where they can attempt re-entry fairly quickly, the United States will be allowed to take them to interior cities such as Mexico City, making reentry more difficult, Hutchinson said.

"It will save lives lost at the border and reduce the incentive for re-entry," he said.

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