Glenn A. Fine, the Justice Department inspector general, said the latest projections are that the two systems won't be combined and automated to check every illegal alien until at least 2008, nearly two years behind the original schedule.
Until then, overworked Border Patrol agents must pick and choose which illegal aliens apprehended at U.S. borders to run through FBI databases that contain some 43 million ten-finger sets of prints of known criminals. That means some will slip through the cracks, possibly to commit more crimes, Fine said.
The report focused on the case of Victor Manual Batres, who was stopped by Border Patrol agents twice in January 2002 but each time was returned to Mexico without having his fingerprints run through the FBI files. Had the agents done so, they would have discovered he had a long criminal history and could have turned him over to federal prosecutors.
Instead, Batres made it across the U.S.-Mexico border illegally a third time later in 2002, making his way to Klamath Falls, Ore., where he raped two Roman Catholic nuns and killed one of them, 53-year-old Sister Helen Lynn Chaska. Batres is now serving a life sentence after pleading guilty to murder and rape.
"The Batres case again illustrates the urgent need to integrate the separate automated fingerprint identification systems," Fine said. "We continue to believe that the integration project should be a critical priority."
While the report focuses on criminals, the inability of Border Patrol agents to quickly check FBI fingerprint databases could also hinder their ability to detect known terrorists who might try to enter the U.S. illegally.
Paul Corts, assistant attorney general for administration, agreed with Fine that the project should be a high priority. He said the Justice Department is attempting to work out a memorandum of understanding with the Homeland Security Department to guide the process but that it was being delayed by budget concerns.
By Curt Anderson