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Monday, 22 July, 2002, 21:53 GMT 22:53 UK
Visitors to US face fingerprinting
Saudi Arabian men
The plan is being denounced as racial profiling
Tens of thousands more foreign visitors will be photographed and fingerprinted as they enter the US under new anti-terror measures announced by Attorney General John Ashcroft.

No one from any country will be exempt from possible checks, but officials have acknowledged that men from Middle Eastern states would be most likely to be screened.

New entry checks
No country's citizens are exempt
Applies to visitors staying more than 30 days
Aimed at men from countries the US believes harbours terrorists
Fingerprints will identify suspects even if they travel on false documents
Wanted criminals as well as terror suspects will be targeted
Measures to be imposed at air and sea ports

Details would be checked against databases including fingerprints gleaned from raids on terrorist training camps and anyone who showed up as a criminal or a threat could be barred from entry.

Mr Ashcroft said the new measures were a necessary response to the 11 September attacks committed by terrorists who had entered the US legally, but Arab American and immigrant rights groups were outraged.

"This system will expand substantially America's scrutiny of those foreign visitors who may pose a national security concern and enter our country," Mr Ashcroft said as he announced the National Security Entry/Exit Registration System.

"And it will provide a vital line of defence in the war against terrorism."

Swift condemnation

But condemnation of the plans was swift from groups who said they were discriminatory and would probably be ineffective.

US Attorney General John Ashcroft
John Ashcroft reportedly won a row with the State Department over introducing the measures
Frank Sharry, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, said the scheme "smacks of the sort of tactics" used by totalitarian regimes like Iraq.

Timothy Edgar of the American Civil Liberties Union said: "The Bush administration is, step by step, isolating Muslim and Arab communities both in the eyes of the government and the American people.


We see the seizure of new powers of surveillance is a smokescreen to hide failure to use the old power

Conservative columnist William Safire
"This latest move needs to be seen in the larger context of all the actions targeted at people of Middle Eastern descent since 11 September."

James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, said the measures would add to an already overburdened process and fail to improve security.

They were simply aimed at showing the American public that the government was "doing something" about terrorism.

Conservative critics

Liberal civil liberties campaigners are not the only ones criticizing Mr Ashcroft. Libertarian conservatives are also bristling at the attorney general's expansion of government powers.

Conservative columnist William Safire wrote in the New York Times on Wednesday: "We see the seizure of new powers of surveillance is a smokescreen to hide failure to use the old power."

Officials have said they expect complaints because the plans could be seen as resorting to a form of racial and religious profiling, but they said they were necessary.

All 19 of the men who hijacked four planes and crashed them deliberately on 11 September entered the US with valid visas.

Recent revelations have shown that the CIA was tracking hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi as early as January 2000 but only alerted authorities at US points of entry three weeks before the attacks.

It was too late. The men had already entered the country.

But Mr Ashcroft said the new system would help the US better keep track of foreigners in the country including those who, like some of the hijackers, had overstayed their visas.

There are reports that the proposals sparked a row between Mr Ashcroft's Justice Department and the State Department.

The new rules are to be brought in under a little-used law from the era of World War II.

It also builds on regulations introduced requiring citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya and Syria to go through extra checks before they may enter the US.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Stephen Sackur
"Civil rights groups call it blatant racial profiling"
Jean Abbey Nader of the Arab American Institute
"We want to make sure our community is treated with dignity and respect"
Immigration practitioner in Washington, Jay Marks
"What will the Justice Dept do with those fingerprints and photographs?"

Key stories

European probe

Background

IN DEPTH
See also:

05 Jun 02 | Americas
09 Apr 02 | Americas
03 Jun 02 | Americas
17 May 02 | Americas
16 May 02 | Americas
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