February theme: Aviation securityFlorida airports will require 10 fingerprints from foreign visitors

Published 20 February 2008

To beef up efforts to catch terrorists and criminals, DHS starts new program in Florida airports — program which requires all foreign visitors to have all ten fingers electronically printed

Foreign visitors arriving at Miami International Airport now must have all ten fingers electronically printed as part of a new DHS program to catch criminals and bolster airport security. Within a year, the same procedure will be required of foreign visitors passing through the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood and Palm Beach international airports, federal officials said Thursday. “We’re going to do this nationwide,” said Jennifer Connors, chief officer of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, based in Miami. The procedure is mandatory for those aged 14 to 79 but is not required for U.S. citizens. As of this week, as foreign visitors go through passport control at Miami International, they must place both hands — separately — on electronic scanners similar to those banks use for identity verification.

For now, fourteen scanners have been installed at Concourse E and fourteen more at Concourse J, but soon every passport lane at the airport will have the devices, she said. The scanners allow customs agents to verify that a visitor’s identity matches the information on his or her passport. They also alert various federal agencies if a visitor is wanted on any domestic or international criminal charges. Previously, visitors were required to have prints taken of only their right and left index fingers. That procedure had gaps that allowed some criminals to escape undetected, Connors said. Even so, she said the limited fingerprinting process prompted federal agencies to nab about 6,000 suspects last year at Miami International Airport.

Frequently, they were people who committed a crime in the United States, left the country and changed their identities. They were intercepted when they returned, she said. “It happens every single day; we pick up people with outstanding warrants,” she said. Miami International, which sees about 10,500 foreign visitors per day, is one of eight airports nationwide that now require the full fingerprinting process. The other airports are in Orlando; Atlanta; Boston; Washington, D.C.; Chicago; Houston; San Francisco and Detroit, Mike Balero, Customs and Border Protection spokesman, said.