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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Photo and Fingerprint Fun

"Russians entering the United States after Jan. 1 will have their fingerprints and photographs taken, travel documents scanned and identifications checked against terrorist watch lists, U.S. officials said."

-- The Moscow Times, May 23.

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WASHINGTON -- Lord, can you imagine the lines? It'll be insanity. Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge says the government will collect photographs and fingerprints from every foreign national visiting on a U.S. visa, and will use that data for an "electronic check-in, check-out system."

This is on top of the new rules demanding face-to-face interviews to get those visas in the first place. About 23 million visitors to the United States last year arrived on visas, The Associated Press says. Ridge says that it will all be "in its first phase of operation" by year's end.

So ... in about seven months, we're going to have new machines and computers up and running at dozens, maybe hundreds of locations; we're going to have hundreds if not thousands of people trained in using them; and visitors will be getting fingerprinted and photographed at arrival -- and then "checked out" at departure.

There's already a faux-welcoming name for this misery: U.S. VISIT, for U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indication Technology. Still missing is the "indication technology" itself: After announcing the program in Washington, Ridge said he would start soliciting proposals from the private sector in about 60 days. That's right: In seven months this is supposed to be up and running -- but they won't even start requesting bids on it for a month or so. You do the math. It ain't happening, not on schedule anyway.

You American citizens out there: Think of what it's like getting your driver's licenses renewed. The slow-moving lines to complete paperwork, the slower-moving lines to have vision tested, the glacial speed with which one's photo is taken. Now imagine having to get through post-Sept. 11 airport-style security to get into those lines. That's the future being offered.

The fingerprinting will be the killer. My Russian wife has been fingerprinted, repeatedly, by the Immigration and Naturalization Service over the years, as part of her Sisyphean citizenship application. Believe me, it takes forever. Let's hope the new technologies will get rid of the ink, which doesn't wash off well.

Ridge's deputy, Asa Hutchinson, says this sort of vigilance could have stopped two of the Sept. 11 hijackers -- because one didn't go to school and so violated his student visa, while the other did go to school and so violated his tourist visa. But that assumes a U.S. government so hard-ass about monitoring 100 percent visa compliance that to come here on any kind of visa would be to submit to unprecedented surveillance; to forever fear the knock on the door, the demand for papers, etc. (Meanwhile, two FBI field offices urged pre-Sept. 11 investigations of flight schools -- which suggests we should reform our existing bureaucracies, not create creaky new ones.)

In addition to America's visitors, there are about 33 million foreign-born people living here -- or about every 10th U.S. resident. Among them are 547,000 university students. Tourists, students and investors are crucial to our economy, our culture -- to our national character. Now, via the mindless mission creep of the security bureaucracies, we're blithely cutting ourselves off from the world. It's a lose-lose situation -- a system likely to punish those who wish us well, and merely amuse those who don't.

Matt Bivens, a former editor of The Moscow Times, writes the Daily Outrage for The Nation magazine.[www.thenation.com].