Tougher Tracking Of Tourists Planned

Foreign visitors arriving at U.S. airports or seaports beginning Jan. 1, 2004, will have their travel documents scanned, fingerprints and photos taken and identification checked against terrorist watchlists.

Homeland Security undersecretary Asa Hutchinson released details Monday of the department's new U.S. Visitor and Immigration Status Indication Technology, or U.S. VISIT, that will check the comings and goings of certain foreign travelers.

The checks will apply to people who arrive in this country carrying visas, which last year was about 60 percent or 23 million of the foreign visitors, said Hutchinson, who oversees Border and Transportation Security.

"In 99.9 percent of the cases, the visitor will simply be wished a good day or sent on their way," Hutchinson said in a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank. "But with that small percentage of hits, our country will be made much safer and our immigration system will be given a foundation of integrity that has been lacking for too long."

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge had announced U.S. VISIT earlier this month.

Hutchinson said when the visitor leaves, the person's departure will be verified with the U.S. VISIT system.

Also as part of the program, Hutchinson said the department has created an Office of Compliance that will analyze all the information collected from visitors and refer any requiring follow up to investigators.