U.S. to start Immigration Security Initiative
Call it Son of CSI or CSI for People.
In a twist on the freight inspection program known as the Container Security Initiative, U.S. Customs and Border Protection plans to station officers at major foreign hub airports to review visas and other travel documents in order to prevent terrorists from entering the country.
Poland has tentatively agreed to allow Customs to run a pilot program at the Warsaw International Airport this summer, after which the agency hopes to reach bilateral agreements to establish inspection teams at large hub airports like Narita in Japan, Heathrow in Great Britain and Schiphol in The Netherlands, spokeswoman Christiana Halsey told American Shipper.
CSI is the brainchild of Customs Commissioner Robert Bonner, who introduced the concept in early 2002 as a way to extend the nation’s borders by gathering commercial data and intelligence on inbound ocean containers and inspecting suspicious ones with the help of foreign customs agencies in ports around the world. The program initially targeted the 20 largest ports doing business with the United States and has expanded to include secondary ports from global hot spots.
“Commissioner Bonner realized that the same processes and methods you use to facilitate trade you can use with people,” Halsey said.
The top seven hub airports account for 40 percent of international travel to the United States, just as the mega ports account for the vast majority of trade volume entering the country.
The Wall Street Journal first reported on the plan to deploy Customs officers to overseas airports in late February, but new details about the program are now emerging. Under the plan, immigration control officers will work at foreign airports to assist airline personnel who have questions or suspicions about certain passengers. As with CSI, inspectors will have no legal authority to enforce U.S. regulations but will simply act as a liaison to help domestic customs officials identify potential terrorists and other dangerous passengers.
About 2,800 people are intercepted trying to use fraudulent documents to enter the United States every year, Halsey said.
The concept is not new, but has gained more traction in the past year. The old Immigration and Naturalization Service conducted a five-month test prior to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, but the program was ignored during the hectic transition to create the Department of Homeland Security by combining the INS, Customs and 20 other agencies. Customs has inspectors at Canadian airports, and the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada station customs personnel in each other’s airports.
Halsey said the program will save airlines money because if a person is deemed inadmissible, they won’t have to set aside a seat to return the person home, as is the current practice. In addition to losing revenue opportunity from that seat, an airline can be fined up to $3,000 for allowing someone who is inadmissible on the plane. During a previous five-month test period the U.S. government saved $46 million and airlines saved $9 million, Halsey said.