Attorney General's Remarks
Implementation of NSEERS Niagara Falls, New York November 7, 2002
It is fitting that this event take place at the edge of Niagara Falls - a majestic setting that has drawn visitors to this land for centuries. But Niagara is more than just a wonder of nature.
The Falls stand as an imposing sentinel on our northern border; a physical reminder of the importance that national boundaries play in securing free peoples. When our nation was founded, the raging waters of the Niagara River served as a barrier that protected Americans against hostile British troops on the other side.
Two and a quarter centuries later, on September 11, 2001, we saw just how much things had changed. The physical borders of the United States are no longer sufficient to prevent our nation's enemies from treading on American soil and endangering our freedoms. We are confronted with a new adversary . one whose platoons seek to enter the country quietly, disguised in the form of legitimate tourists, students, and businessmen. The challenge that we face is to identify and apprehend such individuals while maintaining the free flow of goods and people across the border that is so important to us and to our neighbors.
As part of our ongoing efforts to meet this challenge, five months ago, I announced that the Department of Justice and the Immigration and Naturalization service would develop and deploy the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, or "N-SEERS," as it has come to be called. On September 11, 2001, a year to the day after terrorists declared war on the United States, NSEERS began operation at selected ports of entry.
Today, I am here at Niagara Falls to announce that the NSEERS system is up and running at every port of entry into the United States. We have increased our capacity intercept terrorists or criminals who attempt to enter the country, to verify that foreign visitors who may present national security concerns stick to their plans while they are here. And we have elevated substantially our ability to know instantly when such visitors overstay their visas.
NSEERS has three fundamental components:
- The first is fingerprinting at the border. Using state-of-the-art computer technology, we can obtain digital fingerprints from a visitor's index fingers in seconds.We then run those prints against a digital database of tens of thousands of individuals who are wanted for committing felonies in the United States and a database of thousands of known terrorists . a process that typically takes fewer than three minutes. We can also run the fingerprints of these visitors against a database of "latent" or unidentified fingerprints that our military has collected from terrorist training camps in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
- The second component of NSEERS is periodic registration and confirmation of visitors' activities while they are within our borders.Our European allies have had similar registration systems in place for decades and know the value of ensuring that foreign visitors are doing what they said they would do and living where they said they would live. The NSEERS system takes the European model and combines it with a modern intranet system so that files may be updated in real time at any INS office in the country.
- The third component of NSEERS is a system of exit controls. Visitors who are enrolled in the program must complete a departure check when they leave the country. Now, the INS can know immediately when a high-risk alien overstays his visa.
These NSEERS requirements apply to all non-immigrant adult aliens from five state sponsors of terrorism: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, and Syria. In addition, aliens from other countries who warrant extra scrutiny when they visit the United States are subject to the NSEERS requirements. INS inspectors are applying intelligence-based criteria to identify aliens who may pose an elevated national security risk, and registering them in the system.
Today, I am pleased to report that the system is performing extremely well. In the eight weeks since the operation of NSEERS commenced, the INS has fingerprinted and registered more than 14,000 visitors to the United States. A significant portion of those aliens came from those nations that sponsor terrorism, but NSEERS applies to visitors from every corner of the globe.
So far, the INS has fingerprinted and registered individuals from 112 different countries. From the Baltic to the Balkans and from the Cape of Good Hope to the Rock of Gibraltar, visitors who may present elevated national security concerns will be included. No country is exempt. In the war against terrorism, we cannot afford to have tunnel vision.
NSEERS has already paid large dividends in national security and law enforcement. The fingerprint matching technology has provided a basis for the arrest of 179 aliens at the border. Some were wanted felons who fled law enforcement during a prior visit to the United States. Others were aliens who had serious criminal records and were therefore inadmissible. And others were attempting to enter the United States under false pretenses or with fraudulent documents. These arrests would not have occurred without NSEERS. And let me also add that, if today or tomorrow a suspected terrorists is identified through NSEERS, it will not be the first time that such an apprehension has been made. In this way, NSEERS protects both the United States and Canada. Each time a dangerous individual, a wanted criminal, or a terrorist is stopped at the border, both countries are made more secure.
Congress has mandated that a comprehensive entry-exit system applicable to virtually all aliens be built by 2005. NSEERS is the first, crucial step toward that goal. It has allowed us to close the entry-exit loop for those aliens who present the highest national security risks. Part of its success lies in the cutting-edge technology that makes it possible to intercept terrorists and criminals at our borders by scanning fingerprints and searching databases in a matter of seconds. But a more important aspect of the system's success lies in its human dimension.
The INS inspectors who serve on the front lines . literally . of our national defense have proven extremely capable in operating the system, and have been vigilant in applying the intelligence-based criteria to identify aliens for inclusion in the program. At the same time, they have been courteous to our foreign guests, and have made every effort to minimize any delay or inconvenience. These Americans play a crucial role in the defense of our homeland, and I am grateful for their service.
Deploying this system so rapidly was a Herculean task. I want to thank the dedicated team of INS and Department of Justice officials who worked around the clock to make sure that this vital national security shield was raised as quickly as possible. Their unwavering commitment has made America more secure. The Buffalo District was a crucial testing ground for the system before NSEERS was implemented nationwide, and I want to thank especially the INS employees of Buffalo. Your ingenuity and can-do attitude have served our country well.
And finally, I want to thank the U.S. Attorney's Office, the Anti-Terrorism Task Force, and the larger law enforcement community of the Buffalo area, whose diligent work led to the arrest and arraignment of six individuals in Lackawanna for knowingly providing or attempting to provide material support to al Qaeda. These arrests sent an unambiguous message that we will track down terrorists wherever they hide.
Over two centuries ago, patriots stood on this riverbank defending a new nation's freedom. They recognized that freedom requires vigilance and security if it is to flourish. Today, a new group of patriots stands guard. On behalf of all Americans, I thank them for the sacrifice they have made, the security they provide, and the freedom they defend.
Now I will be happy take your questions.