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Remarks by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff on Secure Borders and Open Doors in the Information Age, at an Event at the Department of State

Release Date: 01/17/06 00:00:00

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
Contact: 202-282-8010
January 17, 2006                              

SECRETARY CHERTOFF:  Thank you, Condi, for that eloquent statement of where we want to go as two departments in facing outward to the rest of the world.  I'm delighted to join Secretary Rice and a lot of distinguished guests here from government and from the private sector to talk a little bit about our vision for strengthening security at the border but keeping the welcome mat out for those who want to come from overseas.

I've had the opportunity in the last year to travel to a number of our ports of entry and, of course, to parts of our border that are between ports of entry, and I've seen a lot of the progress that we continue to make in improving safety at our borders and securing the borders.  But as we continue to work to maintain our immigration laws and to upgrade our security, our heritage, our national character, our economic interests, even our national security interests, require us to continue to promote a welcoming process for those who lawfully cross our borders to work, learn and visit.

And over the last year, Condi and I have had the opportunity to work together to lay out a detailed agenda to ease the path for those who want to come to the United States either to study or to tour or to conduct business.  Some of the things we're doing in addition to what the Secretary of State has already described are taking advantage of modern technology to leverage both our security and the facilitation of travel.

Let's begin with travel documents.  Every single day, thousands of people cross our borders.  We want to be concerned that we're maintaining security with respect to those people but we also want to facilitate their entry into this country.  And we have a tremendous challenge at our land borders in particular, where we have many, many crossings every day and where we face a tremendous task in balancing maintenance of security with the ease of the flow of people and goods that are vital to our country, in particular a lot of our border communities.

Now, last year, Congress mandated that the Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security work together to implement a Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative which will require travelers to present secure identity documentation when entering the United States.  And of course, that applies to U.S. citizens as well as citizens of other countries.

As you know, before this enactment, U.S. citizens and some foreign residents of the Western Hemisphere were not required to present a passport, and so as we add these new documentation requirements, as the law has mandated, we want to make sure we're doing it in a way that continues to support the free movement of people and cargo across the border, which has been so important to all of the economies in this region.

And we also want to make sure that as we address Congress's mandate in this initiative we continue to consult very closely with our Canadian and Mexican partners in the Security and Prosperity Partnership and with our other allies in this part of the world about how to best facilitate border movement in a way that is consistent with the law and security.

Well, our first step is to develop an inexpensive, efficient, interoperable travel card system.  To strike the right balance between security and facilitation, we have to incorporate 21st century technology and innovation, and so by the end of this year our departments anticipate issuing a new, inexpensive secure travel card for land border crossings that will meet the documentation requirements of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative but in a way that does not necessarily require people to have passports of the traditional kind.

This new People Access Security Service, or PASS system card, will be particularly useful for those citizens in border communities who regularly cross northern and southern borders every day as an integral part of their daily lives.  We're talking about essentially like the kind of drivers license or other simple card identification that almost all of us carry in our wallets day in and day out.

Now, the PASS system is an important first step in implementing a broader shared vision for a unified, user-friendly system for trusted travelers.  Secretary Rice and I have been working together to establish a global enrollment network that will unify our various registered traveler programs into a single comprehensive system.  The idea here is to get necessary information only one time from an applicant and then create a system, an architecture, that allows both DHS and State Department officers to get access to this data to confirm the traveler's identity.

Through this effort of building this kind of unified architecture, we'll have the opportunity to transform our border management, decreasing wait times at ports of entry and allowing us to focus our resources on that minority of people who pose a threat.

Through the planned technology enhancements at our ports of entry, we'll be able to recognize and expedite the movement of low-risk or trusted travelers by linking cardholders to secure databases that will allow us to quickly verify identity and citizenship.

We can also leverage these advancements in technology to increase aviation security.  We've already found, for example, that our machine-readable passports have helped to speed travelers through our airport controls while adding an additional layer of necessary security.  By 2007, the United States will transition exclusively to e-passports that will contain biometric information.  Through this kind of electronic passport, we can verify a traveler's identity, protect against identity theft and make it very difficult for forgers or imposters.

 A lot of other countries are moving in this direction as well and they've expressed support on a global basis for improved travel documentation security all around the world.

Now, a critical element as well of facilitation and security is our screening systems.  We do rely on screening systems to identify people we need to worry about and expedite the movement of those of whom we have a high degree of confidence.  And one of our most successful screening programs is US-VISIT.  US-VISIT is now operational in 115 airports, 14 seaports and 154 land-based ports of entry in the United States.  This system is very efficient.  It allows us to confirm the identity of visitors and quickly screen for potential threats, and through the biometric capability we can protect identities and privacy of travelers against identity theft and fraud.

Since 2004, we have intercepted more than 970 individuals with prior suspected criminal or immigration violations using US-VISIT and we've done it without creating longer wait times for travelers at our ports of entry.

Now it's obvious that a key element of all of these 21st century information technology initiatives is information sharing.  And so Condi and I have been working together to integrate information created and used by our respective agencies, integrating different systems that serve different functions.  Through real-time information sharing between our departments, we can streamline the visa process, identify fraud and help to detect inadmissible aliens.  We're paving the way now so that in the future we can take this even further to develop a paperless visa process.

Finally, as we continue to look at ways to leverage technology and information management to pursue the twin goals of security and facilitation, we have to always be mindful of the need to correct mistakes and address individual injustices.  The fact of the matter is mistakes do get made and we need to make sure we are giving travelers a simple way to address them and get them fixed.

Our goal is to establish a government-wide traveler screening redress process before the end of this year to enable travelers who have complaints or have legitimate issues to resolve those questions with one-stop shopping.

These are a few of the steps that we're going to be taking in the near term to achieve the right balance between securing our country and welcoming those who want to visit, work and study in the United States.  The Secretary of State and I will continue to work together with our partners in government and with our partners in the private sector and with our partners overseas to use all of our resources in the 21st century ingenuity to meet the critical challenge -- to make this a country that is safe and secure for those who live and visit, but also one that continues to welcome the next generation of visitors, much as prior generations have been welcomed before.

Thank you very much.



This page was last modified on 01/17/06 00:00:00