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Airport security adds biometrics exit process

By Greg Gelpi

Pressing her index finger to the pad, Monica Chazaro processed her departure from the country Thursday using a U.S. Department of Homeland Security pilot program.

Chazaro and other international passengers leaving Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport began this week being required to process their departure in kiosks throughout the airport before leaving as part of the department's US-VISIT program.

The system "closes the loop" and tightens security, US-VISIT Deputy Director Robert Mocny said.

Before boarding a plane to return to Vera Cruz, Mexico, Chazaro said she didn't mind the process, which included submitting her passport in the kiosk, giving prints from both index fingers and having a picture taken.

"I'm not going to do anything bad," she said. "I'm just coming to visit and going home."

Adan Nunez Ramos checked out through the US-VISIT kiosk as he returned to Mexico City, Mexico, and said that the procedure was easy.

The goals of the program are to facilitate travel and trade, enhance security, ensure the integrity of the immigration system and protect the privacy of travelers.

"International travel is one of focal points for the coming year," Hartsfield-Jackson Assistant General Manager James Stogner said, adding that the airport is constructing an international terminal and expanding its international concourse. "We feel that international travel is the future of this airport."

About 23 million visitors have registered using the entry process since its implementation, Mocny said.

"We are also catching the bad guys," he said.

Mocny praised the successes of the biometrics technology, citing more than 500 have been denied entry into the country because of the procedure.

"The biometrics is what tripped them up," he said, explaining that they had false passports and traveled under fake names. "Simply put, it does work. It makes for a safer America, and it also makes for more efficient airports and seaports."

Previously, foreigners filed paperwork of their travels into and out of the country, Mocny said. The paperwork passed from hand to hand and took months to process. The new process is immediate and accurate.

"The only way to (beat) it is to fake a finger, but you can't do that," Mocny said, adding that the same biometrics is used by the U.S. State Department for issuing visas. "It effectively eliminates visa fraud."

Homeland Security hopes to have the exit system in all airports and seaports by 2006, he said, as the systems become operational at various airports and seaports across the country.