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USING TECHNOLOGY TO CATCH CRIMINALS
Fingerprint Database "Hits" Felons at the Border

12/27/05

A  CBP officer takes a passenger's fingerprint scan to compare with the IAFIS database.
A CBP officer takes a passenger's
fingerprint scan to compare
with the IAFIS database.

When U.S. Customs and Border Protection installed technology that can quickly check the fingerprints of illegal immigrants against the FBI's massive biometric database, its chief called the measure "absolutely critical."

"This technology helps…shed light on those with criminal backgrounds we could never have identified before," Commissioner Robert C. Bonner said in a press statement in October, a month after our Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) became fully available in all 136 border patrol stations.

A very bright light, it turns out. Since last September, IAFIS has returned "hits" on 118,557 criminal subjects who were trying to enter this country illegally, according to Customs and Border Protection officials.

Many of the "hits"—a match of an individual's 10 fingerprints—led to arrests of dangerous criminal suspects, including:

  • 460 individuals for homicide
  • 155 for kidnapping
  • 599 for sexual assault
  • 970 for robbery
  • 5,919 for assault
  • 12,077 for drug-related charges

Border Patrol officials began using our biometric tool in the summer of 2001, connecting two of their facilities in San Diego to our Criminal Justice Information Services Division facility in Clarksburg, West Virginia. Congress sought the deployment to supplement the Border Patrol's 10-year-old biometric database called IDENT, which relies on matching an individual's index fingers, rather than the comprehensive 10-finger prints made by IAFIS.

With IAFIS in place, Border Patrol agents can simultaneously check IDENT's specialized databases and IAFIS's 49 million sets of prints.

Here's how it works: When a Border Patrol agent detains someone, either in the field or at border stops, the agent can take a live-scanned fingerprint of the suspect on the spot. The technology instantly compares the prints against both databases. Results that may have once taken days or weeks are now available within minutes.

About 12 percent of Border Patrol searches result in criminal "hits," according to Department of Justice figures. Of those positive IDs, 85 percent are found by IAFIS. The technology will soon be able to process as many as 20,000 inquiries a day at Border Patrol stations and hundreds of ports of entry.

Office of the Border Patrol chief David Aguilar said during congressional testimony in July that the FBI's fingerprint database has become integral to protecting U.S. borders from terrorists and criminals alike: "With immediate access to IAFIS, our agents have identified hundreds of egregious offenders, including murderers, rapists, kidnappers, and drug traffickers, who otherwise may have gone undetected. It has demonstrated significant steps towards improving national security and greatly enhancing our ability to secure our nation's borders."

Resources: FBI's Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System | More fingerprint stories

Photo courtesy of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Gerald L. Nino.