Saturday, April 15, 2006

The fingerprinting game

A post over on CodeProject about fingerprinting for intending visitors to the US got me thinking. I won't do a link because, for whatever reason, attempts to link to a particular post in the Lounge don't usually go to the right post. Or maybe there's some subtle nuance of HTML that I don't understand.

Though it depends on the country of origin it's a general requirement for a legal immigrant to the US to prove a lack of criminal record. If you're an Australian born after 1942 that involves a fingerprinted search of criminal records in all states of Australia. So I was fingerprinted, for the first time in my life, at age 48. Naturally it came back negative; I've never been arrested let alone charged with a crime.

Arrived in the US, immigration visa in my hot little hand, I was fingerprinted again. I must have looked like the photo!

When my first greencard expired (2 years because I was an immediate relative immigrant married for less than 2 years to my immediate relative sponsor (my wife)) I had to be fingerprinted again.

Now I have a Naturalisation as a US Citizen application going through the system. Once again I get fingerprinted though it won't happen for some months as they work through the pile of paper.

Now let's go back to that first fingerprinting. I sent off to the US consulate in Sydney for the paperwork I needed to fill out. They sent back an alphabet soup of forms; the I130, the I230 and so on, along with requests for a birth certificate and the aforementioned fingerprinted police record. When we showed for the interview at the consulate a set of completed forms were handed over, all showing that one Robert Clyde Manderson was a suitable candidate for consideration as an immigrant to the USA.

They had no way of knowing that the paperwork I filed really was mine! No photo submitted for the police check. No fingerprinting there and then and no comparison of the fingerprints of the applicant with those of the person who had passed the police check!

They took it as granted that the ugly bastard standing before them at the consulate building in Sydney was indeed the person who had been fingerprinted a month before and who had no criminal record!

The only important hurdle surmounted!

Obviously the photo on my immigration visa had to look me; I signed it in the presence of the consulate officer and it was attached to my visa and stamped. So the person who showed it at the Port of Entry to the US had to look like that person. The second fingerprinting, the one at the Port of Entry is when the chain was started. That was the first time my fingerprints went onto a US database.

Presumably the third fingerprinting, the one taken at the Phoenix INS office at the time of my greencard renewal, was compared with the Port of Entry record.

But it's that first fingerprinting that's the hole in the system. I need hardly state that I didn't cheat the system. It was indeed I who fronted up at Footscray Police Station in early April 2002 to be fingerprinted. It took more than a quarter of an hour to get most of the ink off my hands after THAT experience. They noticed in the office the next day that my hands seemed rather darker than usual!

But it could have been someone else; someone with no police record.

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