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Public Statements

Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2008

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. BILIRAKIS. I yield myself as much time as I may consume.

I rise to offer an amendment to the Coast Guard Authorization Act that will strengthen maritime security. My amendment would replace section 708 of the bill which incorporates language from a stand-alone bill I have introduced with tougher language that would codify and expand a Coast Guard pilot program to collect biometric information on aliens interdicted at sea.

My amendment requires the Coast Guard to move forward on this program within 1 year, and provide a cost analysis to Congress on expanding these capabilities in other Coast Guard and Department of Homeland Security vessels and units.

As part of this analysis, my amendment would encourage DHS to give priority to expanding mobile biometric collection capabilities to assets and areas that are most likely to encounter illegal border crossings in the maritime environment.

The efforts of the Coast Guard in this area show great promise. Since the collection of limited biometrics on individuals interdicted at sea began, the Coast Guard has collected biometric data from 1,513 migrants resulting in nearly 300 matches against databases of wanted criminals, immigration violators, and others who have previously encountered government authorities. Instead of being released to repeat their dangerous and illegal behavior, these individuals are now detained and prosecuted.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in San Juan, Puerto Rico, has prosecuted more than 118 individuals for violations of U.S. laws, immigration laws, and other offenses based substantially on information obtained through the biometrics program.

The Coast Guard reports that illegal migration in the Mona Pass area, an area between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, has been reduced by 50 percent in the past year as a direct result of the biometrics program.

By leveraging its relationships within DHS, the Coast Guard now has access to millions of fingerprint files it can use to positively identify individuals encountered at sea, those who are without identification and are suspected of attempting an illegality and illegally entering the United States. Now that the Coast Guard has determined the most effective way to collect biometrics at sea, the Department of Homeland Security needs to determine the most appropriate way to move forward and expand this effort as cost effectively as possible, which is what my amendment requires.

Given the success of existing efforts on biometrics by the Coast Guard, I believe it is imperative that we strengthen section 708 of the underlying bill on clarifying congressional intent in this area so that these efforts are cost effective and will do the most good. It is clear the collection of biometrics at sea by the Coast Guard is already helping greatly deter illegal migration and prevent the capture and release of dangerous individuals.

I urge the distinguished Members of this House to help further that effort by voting for this amendment.

Madam Chairman, I reserve the balance of my time.

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