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Wednesday, 14 August, 2002, 10:12 GMT 11:12 UK
US outlines tougher visitor checks
US customs officer
The US wants to track 'virtually all' foreign visitors by 2005
The United States has announced plans to tighten immigration checks on foreign visitors from 11 September - the first anniversary of the deadly terrorists attacks on New York and Washington.

New INS programme
targets all nationals of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan and Syria
non-immigrant foreign nationals who present an elevated national security risk
foreign nationals identified by INS inspectors
A new programme by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) will require visitors from certain countries seen as an "elevated security risk" to be fingerprinted and photographed at the border.

It was adopted after the US Congress had required the Justice Department to develop a stricter entry and exit system as part of sweeping anti-terrorist reforms.

"The vulnerability of our immigration system became starkly clear on 11 September," US Attorney General John Ashcroft said.

"This system...will provide a vital line of defence in the war against terrorism."

The measure will mainly affect people from Arab and Muslim countries, and its critics have already warned it will unfairly target certain ethnic groups.

Terrorist database

The programme will start at several selected ports of entry, and after a 20-day trial period it will be fully implemented across the US on 1 October.

Scenes of panic in New York as the World Trade Center collapses
About 3,000 people died in the 11 September attacks

The new system will target:

  • all nationals of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan and Syria;

  • non-immigrant foreign nationals whom the State Department determines to present an elevated national security risk, based on criteria reflecting current intelligence;

  • foreign nationals identified by INS inspectors at the port of entry, using similar criteria.

    The fingerprints will then be matched against a database of known criminals and terrorists.

    The visitors will also be required to check in periodically with authorities, similar to programmes adopted by several European countries.

    'Racial profiling'

    The measures have been criticised by civil rights campaigners, who say some visitors will be treated unfairly.

    "This is a fancy way of racial profiling," Carl Baron, immigration attorney and researcher at the University of Texas, told the Associated Press news agency.

    "Just on the basis of where a person is from the government is going to subject them to these measures.

    "You're going to see fewer Middle Easterners willing to come to the United States and I wonder whether that isn't the real agenda."

    But the INS has dismissed the allegations as unfounded.

    "The real agenda is to improve security in the United States and improve the knowledge of who is coming and what their business is here," Bill Strassberger, INS spokesman said.

    "The terrorists were able to exploit what they perceived as weaknesses. We can make sure that won't happen again."

    Experts say that under anti-terrorist legislation passed late last year, the US Congress wants to track virtually all of the 35 million foreign visitors who come to the US annually by 2005.


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