• Text smaller
  • Text bigger

WASHINGTON – U.S. immigration inspectors, who are the
first line of defense against foreign terrorists
entering the country, are being asked to do more in
less time and with less money – even as the country
remains on high terror alert – several U.S. officials
complained.

WorldNetDaily has learned that the U.S. Department of
Homeland Security late last month ordered inspectors
at the nation’s international airports to speed the
processing of foreign passengers. International
flights must now be cleared within 60 minutes of
arrival.

The new one-hour processing rule applies even under
the code orange threat level, which is expected to
remain in effect at least through the end of the
month, said a U.S. Customs and Border Protection
official.

“Passenger processing time is the No. 1 priority
again,” he said.

The USA PATRIOT Act was supposed to have done away
with a 45-minute processing deadline imposed on
inspectors before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist
attacks. Five of the Middle-Eastern hijackers managed
to enter the U.S. despite problems with their visas.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Mike
Milne declined comment.

At the same time, inspectors are taking on additional
duties under a new federal security program that
requires them to digitally fingerprint and photograph
all travelers entering the U.S. with visas.
Previously, they were tasked with collecting such
biometric data from visitors from primarily Muslim
countries.

The program, called US-VISIT, goes into effect Monday
at all 115 American airports that handle international
flights.

Inspectors say that if any flights take longer than 60
minutes to clear from the time the plane blocks at the
ramp, the US-VISIT system at that terminal will be
discontinued until the flights are brought under
control and under the one-hour processing time.

“Our port director said our heads will be on a
chopping block if we have too many times over 60
minutes,” said one inspector. “And they’re already
talking about pushing it back to 55 minutes.”

The new US-VISIT program will not apply to the 28
countries – many in Europe, including France and
Britain – that participate in the controversial
federal Visa Waiver Program. Canada is also exempt. href="/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=33992">Visa
requirements for 90-day visits to the U.S. are waived
for travelers from those “low-risk” nations.
However, the Visa Waiver Program program is scheduled
to be canceled by the end of 2004, a U.S. official
notes.

Some inspectors contend that Washington is bowing to
pressure from the airlines to speed up processing of
foreign passengers.

“Somehow the airline industry has convinced the
Department of Homeland Security that flights can be
processed in one hour or less with no damage to
national security,” said an inspector at a major
international airport who asked not to be identified.

He says one of the goals of US-VISIT is to help the
U.S. crack down on fraudulent visas and other
documents.

“The addition of the US-VISIT, if used properly, can
help in identifying fraud and fake documents,” he
said.

A U.S. intelligence official in a recent security
advisory warned inspectors to be on the alert for
al-Qaida operatives using fraudulent visas and
passports.

“One recurring concern are female operatives using
Europe, especially Spain and France as transit points
en route to the United States,” said William Roy
Surrett, director of CBP intelligence, in a Dec. 24
memo. “This may include the use of false or altered
travel documentation from Spain.”

France and
Belgium are problem spots, too, inspectors say.

Travelers from all three countries are exempt, at
least initially, from enrolling in the US-VISIT
program. They must present passports, however.

Just before Christmas, when the new one-hour passenger
processing deadline was instated, DHS press secretary
Brian Roehrkasse was quoted in the press saying
inspectors were “increasing scrutiny” of international
passengers.

“At this time,” he said in a Dec. 24 Washington Post
article, “our Customs and Border Protection inspectors
are increasing scrutiny of all international
passengers coming into the United States.”

Roehrkasse did not return repeated phone calls seeking
comment about the new rule to speed up the passenger
screening process.

But an internal Dec. 18 memo by a top DHS official
asks supervisors to report any “complaints received by
either passengers or airlines” related to delays
involving US-VISIT flights processed.

“Management oversight of the US-VISIT process is
essential to mitigate delays and ensure the efficient
facilitation of legitimate travelers during the busy
holiday travel time,” said Robert Jacksta, executive
director of DHS Border Security and Facilitation, in
the directive, a copy of which was obtained by
WorldNetDaily.

Also, a CBP official at one of the busiest airports in
the country said Washington plans to cut overtime
budgets for inspectors by millions of dollars this
year.

He says the immigration side of inspections, which is
more people-oriented, has suffered since INS merged in
October with U.S. Customs as a result of the formation
of DHS. Many of the top managers in CBP, the entity
that absorbed the two agencies, come from the Customs
side of operations.

“It’s not a merger, it’s a takeover,” complained the
official, who worked for INS.

A Customs officials called it sour grapes.

“I would fully expect it from them,” he said. “We all
dreaded when we became fully one agency.”

“If you have had any dealings with INS, you would know
what I mean,” he said without elaborating.

Previous stories:

Qaida may use Chechen women in next attack

Terrorists plan to pose as disabled travelers

FBI lists odd smells associated with biochem attacks

Homeland Security report: Qaida could gas subways

Fed memo reveals fears over air cargo, ramp security

Feds to cops: Prepare for car bombs

Terrorists may use fake French, Belgian passports

U.S. belatedly cancels Transit Without Visa program

Saudi panic over Justice memo leads to meeting

INS to vet Indonesia, Malaysia travelers

Saudi Arabia ‘shocked’ to be added to watchlist

U.S. gets tough with Paki, Saudi visitors

FBI guide shows ways terrorists might conceal weapons

10 myths of aviation security

  • Text smaller
  • Text bigger
Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.