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TOP STORY: US-VISIT could soon be part of ICE

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) could soon have 78 new employees. As part of the fiscal year 2013 budget, Congress is considering transitioning US-VISIT program employees between ICE and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

US-VISIT, which currently falls under the National Protection and Programs Directorate, was created in 2003 to meet statutory mandates for an automated entry and exit system. Working with CBP, US-VISIT initialized biometric data collection capabilities to record entry at air, land and sea. Over the last 10 years, US-VISIT has evolved into a biometric and biographic identity verification and watch list-matching service.

If Congress approves next year's budget and confirms the transfer, ICE would take over the US-VISIT overstay analysis program in support of the agency's responsibility for interior immigration enforcement. CBP would assume responsibility for most of US-VISIT's core operations, including management of the biometric and biographic information storage and matching and watch list services. As currently proposed, ICE would receive $17.6 million and 78 positions CBP would receive $261.5 million and 351 positions.

John P. Woods, assistant director for ICE's Homeland Security Investigations National Security Division, has been part of the transition's workgroup, which has been meeting routinely for the last several months. Woods said the group has considered the effect this change would have on external and internal stakeholders and is working hard to ensure the smoothest transition possible.

"I see the Overstay Analysis Program as a natural fit," said Woods.

Although the budget has not yet been approved, ICE, CBP and US-VISIT are taking proactive steps to transfer the multiple US-VISIT programs, including its biometric and biographic entities over to ICE and CBP. Earlier this month, Peter T. Edge, deputy associate director for ICE's Homeland Security Investigations; Thomas S. Winkowski, acting deputy commissioner for CBP; and Shonnie Lyon, deputy director for US-VISIT; all signed an agreement to move forward with the transition if and when the budget is approved.

The agencies' officials all feel confident that if initiated, this transfer of responsibilities, personnel and budget would complement the missions of both ICE and CBP. In addition, it would provide long-term efficiencies and increase operational effectiveness throughout the Department of Homeland Security.

"The transition of US-VISIT's overstay analysis program is a valuable one," Woods said. "It will strengthen our processes, as one team operating toward our enforcement goals in the judicious targeting of visitor overstays that pose a threat to our national security or public safety and in addressing the Department's overall mission."

Learn more about US-VISIT.