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Federal Homeland Security installs new equipment

By Gemma Q. Casas SAIPAN, CNMI (Mariana Variety, Dec. 1, 2009) - THE U.S. Department of Homeland Security replaced the old computer system at the Francisco C. Ada/Saipan International Airport in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands with equipment that gathers a person’s biographical and biometric data through fingerprint and facial scanners which officials described as more technologically advanced than Guam's.

Edward Low, chief officer for public liaison of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said Guam’s equipment will soon be updated.

CBP, an agency under DHS, brought in 42 personnel — four managers and 37 officers — to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands to take over from local immigration personnel the administration of the islands’ immigration system on Nov. 28, when the federalization law took effect.

The CBP personnel are mostly from Detroit, Miami, Alaska, Hawaii, Guam and other parts of the U.S. and they will be assigned to the CNMI for four months.

The collected biographic and biometric data will be matched with the database of law enforcement agencies which has a depository of the names and photographs of suspected terrorists and criminals.

On Nov. 28, the CBP officers processed more than 300 passengers, mostly Japanese and Korean tourists, who arrived one after another past 1 a.m. on Delta and Asiana aircraft.

A worker from the Philippines aboard Delta Airlines who attempted to enter Saipan using her CNMI-issued entry permit was held, and it was not immediately known if she was eventually allowed to enter the island.

Alexander Y. Hartman, immigration policy advisor of the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Policy Development, said CBP officers have a protocol to follow in dealing with such a case.

The person will first undergo a primary interview and then a secondary interview before a decision is made.

Under the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Act, all people wishing to enter the CNMI should have any of the following — a U.S. passport, a U.S. visa, a U.S. permanent visa or green card, a parole visa or his or her country is included in the Guam-CNMI Visa Waiver Program.

Saipan Republican Reps. Diego T. Benavente, Ramon A. Tebuteb, Ralph DLG. Torres and other government officials, including CNMI Congressman Gregorio C. Sablan and Senate President Pete P. Reyes observed the handover process.

Yoichi Matsumura, president of Pacific Development Inc., a Japanese-owned tourist company, said the federal screening process is "good" and does not inconvenience passengers.

"I think it’s a smooth transition. There’s not much change. It’s the same procedure as in Guam," he said

Marie Thérèse Sebrechts, DHS-USCIS regional media manager, said although U.S. immigration law now applies to the CNMI, it will still undergo a transition period until Dec. 31, 2014, to allow for an orderly transition and give individuals time to identify an appropriate visa classification under the INA.

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