Some Mexicans Won't Be Fingerprinted
By SUZANNE GAMBOA
The Associated Press
Friday, March 5, 2004; 1:54 AM
WASHINGTON - The Bush administration will back off plans to require that visa-carrying Mexicans who make short visits to America and stay close to the border be fingerprinted and photographed, The Associated Press has learned.
The move is a concession to Mexican President Vicente Fox, who begins a two-day visit to President Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, on Friday.
A congressional official who was briefed Thursday by the Homeland Security Department said the administration will not require the fingerprints and photographs at the border. The official spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.
During testimony before a congressional panel, Asa Hutchinson, Homeland Security's undersecretary for border and transportation, would only say the idea was under consideration. However, afterward he told reporters, "I think that is what probably will be necessary."
Agustin Gutierrez Canet, a spokesman for Fox, called the development "a friendly and positive gesture toward Mexico."
Mexicans make millions of quick trips across the border each year. In San Diego alone, more than 165,000 people enter from Mexico each day.
Those who have so-called laser visas currently are allowed to stay in the country three days provided they stay close to the border. Such visas are issued to people who have undergone background checks and consulate interviews where they are fingerprinted and photographed. The visas generally are held by workers and people who need to make frequent quick trips across the border.
As part of the new US-VISIT program, those people were to be fingerprinted and photographed before crossing the border starting sometime before the end of the year.
Mexican border officials and officials in U.S. border communities feared that could lead to long delays or prompt fewer people to enter the country. Either scenario would hurt local economies that rely on a steady flow of visitors.
US-VISIT was developed in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to ensure that people on terrorist watch lists and other criminals don't get into the country. The first part of it took effect in January and requires that visitors from certain countries traveling on visas and entering at 115 major airports and 14 seaports be fingerprinted and photographed.
The program will be added to the 50 busiest land ports later this year. Fox was upset that under the expanded plan, Mexicans would be photographed and fingerprinted before entering the United States, while Canadians would not.
As part of the revised plan, the government will install machines that can read the electronic information in the laser visas at the 50 busiest land ports. The machines are at only a handful of border points as of now.
Nearly 360 million travelers entered the United States at all the nation's land ports of entry in 2002.
A program to log foreigners' departures also is being developed.
© 2004 The Associated Press