Some spouses subject to new security checks
January 10, 2004
SEOUL — The Department of Homeland Security’s new program to fingerprint and photograph foreign visitors as part of entry immigration checks likely will have wide-ranging effects on non-U.S. citizen military spouses in the Pacific.
The program, which started Monday, affects those entering the United States at 115 airports and 14 seaports.
Some Pacific countries with large U.S. military populations, such as Japan, are exempt from the new requirement but South Korea and the Philippines are not.
Any non-U.S. citizen who is a lawful permanent resident of the United States — those holding a green card — and most people from the 27 countries in the waiver program will not be fingerprinted or photographed as part of their immigration checks.
“Typically, the spouses of citizens have green cards so they’re not included,” said Homeland Security spokesman Bill Strassberger.
However, some may have to go through the extra steps.
“Fiancées are the primary ones, or the family members of foreign-born spouses,” Strassberger said. But those relatives 14 and younger, or 79 and older, will be exempt from being fingerprinted and photographed, he said.
Reaction among servicemembers and their spouses was mixed.
The new rules rankled at least a few. Fingerprinting or photographing South Koreans sends a bad message to a country allied with the United States, said the 1st Signal Brigade’s 1st Lt. Andrew Tiches, who recently married a South Korean citizen.
Terrorists haven’t been identified as originating from South Korea, he said. “It’s hard for me to believe that fingerprinting and taking pictures of Korean nationals and other countries that have no clearly defined Muslim extremist activity” will thwart terrorists, he said. “It makes no sense.”
Tiches said his wife, Youngae, just received her U.S. visa Monday after starting the process in September. He said the process was painstaking: He e-mailed and faxed the U.S. Embassy almost every other day to check on her application’s status. Luckily, Tiches said, his boss was forgiving and let him make frequent trips to the embassy.
Embassy officials told him the visa took so long because of new Department of Homeland Security processes, Tiches said. Few officials were able to answer questions, he said.
“It’s a very discouraging process because it’s not clearly defined,” Tiches said.
But many called the new measures prudent precautions.
Natalia Lyons is a Russian national whose husband, Sgt. Charles Lyons, serves with the 2nd Infantry Division at Camp Red Cloud. She said she expects to travel to the United States for the first time this year and likely will apply for U.S. citizenship.
She does not mind the new U.S. visa requirements.
“I was supposed to go in December but now we are thinking of going in summertime,” Lyons said. “My husband is going to retire from the Army after 20 years’ service later this year and wants to live in the U.S.
“I’m OK with that. If they want to take my fingerprints they can. Only guilty people can care. If it helps security in the States, of course they should do it, especially now with the situation with terrorists.”
Okinawa-based Chief Hospital Corpsman Jeffrey Comicho, whose family lives in the Philippines, said, “If it’s a security requirement then it understandably needs to be enforced. Besides, if you have nothing to hide, then why worry about it?”
Thelma Salunga is a civilian employee at U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa who also has friends and family in the Philippines. “I don’t mind it,” she said. “These safety precautions are put in place to make sure we all have a safe country to live in.”
Salunga also said she expects security to be tight into and out of the United States and that even U.S. citizens must remove their shoes and have their bags searched.
According to a Homeland Security news release, tests have shown that the US-VISIT Program requirements add an average of 15 seconds to the entry process for foreign nationals traveling with visas.
Even if servicemembers and their spouses flew on a military-chartered Patriot Express flight to the United States, fingerprints and photographs would still be taken, as those flights go through the same immigration process as commercial flights.
Patriot Express flights land at civilian international airports and some military installations. Every Patriot Express destination in the United States has the equipment to register people in the US-VISIT program, officials said.
Homeland Security officials eventually will re-fingerprint and re-photograph departing US-VISIT passengers to ensure people don’t overstay their visas and actually are the same people who entered the country. A departure confirmation program is now being tested at the Baltimore-Washington International Airport and at selected Miami cruise-line terminals. BWI Airport is one of the Patriot Express departure locations.
Those entering the United States through land border crossings do not now have to go through US-VISIT procedures, officials said.
More information on the US-VISIT program is available on the DHS Web site at http://www.dhs.gov/us-visit.
— Fred Zimmerman, Jeremy Kirk and Seth Robson contributed to this story.