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Chertoff/Rice Briefing on Secure Borders and Open Doors in the Information Age

Cite as "AILA InfoNet Doc. No. 06011861 (posted Jan. 18, 2006)"

Special Briefing
Office of the Spokesman
Washington, DC
January 17, 2006

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you very much and welcome to the State Department and, of course, a very special welcome to Secretary of Homeland Security Mike Chertoff. Mike, welcome. I'd also like to recognize a number of other government officials who are here, but particularly the President's Assistant for Homeland Security, Fran Townsend, who's sitting in the front row here.

(Applause.)

After taking office, Mike and I began working together to realize President Bush's vision for secure borders and open doors in the information age. We have done so with the help of many in this room and we're grateful to our many private partners who join us this morning, partners from travel and tourism, academia and the sciences and from the business community.

Four years ago, our government took dramatic new actions to secure America from an unprecedented new threat. Since that time, while continuing to increase border and travel security, we have made significant changes to ensure that America remains also hospitable to the tens of millions of foreign visitors who enter our country every year.

Earlier this month, President Bush addressed our University Presidents Summit here at the State Department that was cosponsored with the Department of Education. He reaffirmed that it is a vital national interest for America to remain a welcoming nation even as we strengthen security in the fight against terrorism.

Today, Mike Chertoff and I want to share with you our joint strategy, a strategy that has three main pillars. First, we seek to use new information technology to renew America's welcome, making it as easy as possible for foreign visitors to travel to the United States and to do so securely and safely.

Second, we seek to create travel documents for the 21st century, documents that can protect personal identity and expedite secure travel.

The third pillar of our strategy is to conduct smarter screening in every place that we encounter travelers, whether at a consulate abroad or at a port of entry into the United States.

Secretary Chertoff will speak to you about the second and third parts of our strategy, but right now I want to address the first pillar that I mentioned: how we will update our technology to achieve a faster, more secure and more respectable process of welcoming foreign visitors to the United States.

In recent years the Department of State has made tremendous progress in renewing America's welcome. With the support of Congress we were able to create 515 new consular positions since September of 2001. We are automating obsolete visa processing systems and we're making the visa process more transparent, more efficient and more predictable. Today, 97 percent of approved travelers receive their visas in a day or two and we have dramatically decreased the wait time for the rest.

A Russian scientist, for example, who applied for a visa two years ago would have waited 75 days, perhaps even longer, while his application underwent additional screening and review. Today, that review time would take less than two weeks. The actions we are taking are getting results. From 2003 to 2004, the number of international visitors to the United States rose by 12 percent to more than 46 million people. The largest single increase -- single year increase in arrivals in over a decade. In addition, the number of students receiving visas over the past year increased by nearly nine percent from the previous year.

These trends are important, but they are only the beginnings of our efforts to create more secure borders and more open doors. And today, while advancing our legitimate security interests, we are taking new steps to welcome a greater number of foreign visitors to America than ever before. We are renewing America's welcome to general travelers and tourists.

Working with Congress, the private sector and local officials, DHS and State will soon introduce a pilot model airport program. The pilot project will include customized public video messages to help foreign travelers move efficiently through the border entry process and it will feature friendly greeters to assist foreign travelers once they have been admitted to our country. We have selected two airports for this pilot project this year: Washington Dulles and Houston.

We are also exploring ways to use cutting-edge technology to transform traditional visa application methods. Later this year, we will begin testing how digital videoconferencing technology could rapidly expedite the issuing of visas. Of course, we must ensure that the security of the visa process remains intact, as does the biometric information of applicants. Yet, if we can do this successfully, this process might make life dramatically easier for foreign citizens who must now travel great distances to be interviewed in person.

We are also renewing America's welcome to students and professors and researchers. At all of our 210 visa processing posts, getting visas into the hands of foreign students is becoming a top priority. In addition, we are actively encouraging students, researchers and scientists to pursue their studies in the United States. In the coming months, our two departments will work together to expand the length of time that foreign students can arrive and live and learn in America. We will now issue student visas up to 120 days before classes begin, as compared to 90 days under current regulations. And we will allow students to enter the country 45 days in advance of their studies, as compared to 30 days at present.

Finally, we're renewing America's welcome to business people and entrepreneurs. For our economy to continue to grow and prosper, the foreign employees and customers of our business community must be able to enter our country quickly and efficiently. To improve this process, State and DHS are enrolling companies for expedited visa processing and we are making visa application forms and comprehensive information available online, a process that we will soon expand.

The State Department has also established a visa -- business visa center that is currently helping hundreds of U.S. companies every month get the visas they need. At the same time, our embassies and consulates in over 100 countries are working closely with local America Chambers of Commerce to expedite the visa process for legitimate business travelers.

In China, for example, we are working directly with 400 American Chamber of Commerce companies. The local employees of these companies may apply at any time for a visa at our embassy and thereby, bypass the standard waiting period for a visa interview. We processed nearly 10,000 visa applicants through this channel just last year.

Public/private partnerships such as these are essential and we will create more of them in the future. In fact, the Department of Homeland Security, with State Department participation, is creating an advisory board to formalize our existing relationship with our tourism, business and academic partners. This board will take your views into account and identify best practices to develop more ideal travel policies.

A final note before I turn to Mike. When he and I took office a year ago, we found a stereotype, a caricature, if you will. The State Department was the welcoming department, but maybe a little soft, and the Homeland Security department was the tough enforcer and maybe a little heartless. One of our earliest resolutions was to show people that this stereotype was wrong on both sides. We at the State Department are firmly committed to border security and to protecting our nation and we will make the necessary tough decisions to do so.

The same is true of our colleagues at the Department of Homeland Security, as Mike will explain. We share an interest in an open and fully secure America. Please welcome Secretary of Homeland Security, Mike Chertoff.

(Applause.)

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 and 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.

(Applause.)

2006/48

Released on January 17, 2006

 
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