FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 10, 2004
Schumer: Gaping Hole In Nyc Security - 25,000 Unscreened Cruise Ship Passengers To Disembark Just Steps From G.O.P. Convention
As Feds fight to close Penn Station and Farley Post Office during Republican National Convention, they flatly refused this week to install "US-VISIT" scanners at Manhattan's Passenger Ship Terminal to check visitors' fingerprints and pictures against terror databases
14 other major ship terminals in US already have systems installed, but Homeland Security officials reversed course this
Standing at the New York City Passenger Ship Terminal on the West Side of Manhattan, US Senator Charles E. Schumer revealed today that while Federal officials are pushing to close Madison Square Garden and the James A. Farley Post Office during the summer's Republican National Convention, they refuse to install their highly-touted new "fingerscanners" at Manhattan's Passenger Ship Terminal to check foreign visitors against terrorist watch lists, even though the Terminal is jut blocks away from the Convention.
Schumer today released new data showing that 25,000 passengers and crews will disembark at the Terminal adjacent to the West Side Highway at 47th Street during the week of the convention, and asked US Customs and Border Protection to reverse their decision and install the scanners there.
"If there's one thing we've learned since 9/11, it's that the terrorists look for the places we aren't vigilant and try to exploit them," Schumer said. "It's crazy that Washington wants to shut down Penn Station and inconvenience millions of New Yorkers, but won't lift a finger to give us the fingerprint scanners that we need to protect us during Convention week and every week. It's great that foreign visitors get checked at JFK and Newark, but if terrorists know they can walk down the gangplank and right over to the Convention without getting a security scan, we've left a gaping hole here on the Hudson."
In January, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) launched the new United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) which records the fingerprints and facial images of most foreign visitors with non-immigrant visas who come to the United States. The US-VISIT system requires that foreign visitors traveling to the United States on visas have their two index fingers scanned and a digital photograph taken at the port of entry. This information is checked against criminal databases and terrorist watch lists and is checked against information that was recorded by State Department officials when the traveler's visa was first issued.
Cameras and fingerprint scanners were installed at 14 seaports and 115 airports – including John. F. Kennedy International Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport – but not at the New York City Passenger Ship Terminal. In January Schumer asked the Homeland Security Department to install their "US-VISIT" system at the Terminal by the time the largest ship in the world, the brand-new Queen Mary 2 – docks in New York in April. They have not done so. Despite an initial response from a DHS spokesperson in January saying that US-VISIT would eventually be installed at the Terminal, this week US Customs and Border Protection informed Schumer's office that they have no intention of installing the technology there.
Schumer noted that the US Secret Service floated proposals last week and this week to shut down Penn Station and the James A. Farley Post Office across Eighth Avenue from Penn Station during part or all of the 2004 Republican National Convention. The Convention will run from August 30 through September 2, although pre-Convention activities will begin before that. According to the Republican National Committee, nearly 50,000 visitors are expected to visit New York City for the events.
The New York Terminal is the second-largest passenger ship terminal in the United States and is located only blocks away from Madison Square Garden, the site of the Republican Convention. The New York City Passenger Ship Terminal is the largest US passenger port outside of Florida and can accommodate up to five full-size cruise ships at a time. The Terminal handled approximately 900,000 passengers in 2003. Approximately 1 out of every 10 cruise ship passengers in the world will travel through the New York City Passenger Ship Terminal this year, according to data from the Cruise Line International Association.
Schumer today released a new analysis showing that nine ships carrying a total of 24,999 passengers and crew will dock in Manhattan in the days just before, during, and after the Republican convention. (See attached chart.)
Schumer today wrote to Robert C. Bonner, Commissioner of the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) within the Department of Homeland Security, asking him to reconsider his decision and make sure that US-VISIT is fully implemented at the New York City Passenger Ship Terminal – including the cameras and fingerprint scanners – before the August convention.
"It’s just inconsistent that one Federal agency is seeking to shut down the busiest rail station in North America during the Convention, while another won’t take steps needed to secure the Passenger Ship Terminal located mere blocks away. I lobbied hard to have the Democratic and the Republican conventions in New York, and I helped secure $25 million from DHS to help New York City cover some of the costs of additional security that will be needed. I understand that the configuration of the Passenger Ship Terminal makes the installation of the US-VISIT system in the normal manner difficult. However, given our shared concern about security at the Republican National Convention, I respectfully urge you to reconsider your decision not to equip the New York Passenger Ship Terminal with US-VISIT,” Schumer wrote.
In November, Schumer revealed that there were credible, unanswered questions about whether enough is being done to ensure the security of the passengers and crew members who pass through the New York City Passenger Ship Terminal. Schumer and a whistle-blower reported that despite some moves to increase passenger security at the Terminal, serious security gaps remain. In response to Schumer's inquiry, the Commandant of the Coast Guard – the highest ranking Coast Guard Officer in the United States – launched an investigation of security at the Terminal in December and reported this week that some improvements have been made.
In January, Schumer also pushed DHS to close a loophole that let foreign visitors from 27 allied countries enter the US without using US-Visitor. DHS agreed to change the policy late last week.