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WASHINGTON, DC- Attorney General John Ashcroft announced that the first phase of the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) will be implemented by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) at selected ports of entry throughout the United States on September 11, 2002. After an initial 20-day period for testing and evaluating the system at selected ports of entry, all remaining ports of entry -- including land, air and sea -- will have the new system in place on October 1, 2002.

Congress required in the USA PATRIOT Act that the Justice Department develop an entry-exit system in order to provide greater protection for the United States and help aliens fulfill their responsibilities under the laws of the United States. The NSEERS program is the first step toward the development of a comprehensive entry-exit system applicable to virtually all foreign visitors.

Under the NSEERS program, the fingerprints of a small percentage of entering foreign visitors will be matched against a database of known criminals and a database of known terrorists. These visitors will be selected according to intelligence criteria reflecting patterns of terrorist organizations' activities. During a pilot project using the same fingerprint technology to identify wanted criminals attempting to re-enter the United States, the results have been extremely positive. The INS has been receiving an average of more than 70 fingerprint "hits" a week, resulting in the arrest of more than 2,000 wanted felons from January through July 2002.

In addition to requiring the fingerprinting of higher-risk visiting aliens at the port of entry, the NSEERS program will require the same individuals to periodically confirm where they are living and what they are doing in the United States, as well as to confirm their exit from the country. This practice of requiring foreign visitors to periodically register with law enforcement authorities has long been commonplace in European countries.

U.S. law has long required aliens who stay in the United States for more than 30 days to be registered and fingerprinted. However, such requirements have been suspended for decades, with respect to most visiting foreign nationals. The NSEERS program will put registration and fingerprinting requirements back in place, along with exit controls, for the following visitors to the United States:

All nationals of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan and Syria

Nonimmigrant aliens whom the State Department determines to present an elevated national security risk, based on criteria reflecting current intelligence

Aliens identified by INS inspectors at the port of entry, using similar criteria

"The vulnerabilities of our immigration system became starkly clear on September 11th," said Ashcroft. "This system will expand substantially America's scrutiny of those foreign visitors who may present an elevated national security risk. And it will provide a vital line of defense in the war against terrorism. I thank the INS for their diligent work in getting this critical system up and running in such a short period of time."

The Attorney General announced the proposed rule of the National Security Entry Exit System on June 6, 2002. The final rule was published on August 12, 2002. It will take effect on September 11, 2002.