Bze. Immigration Upgrades To PIRS
Since, the Honorable Senator Godwin Hulse took over as the Minister of Immigration; it has seen a major overhaul.
One aspect of that overhaul is to introduce stricter requirements to obtain a Belizean Passport, in order to improve the confidence of the international community that such holders deserve to have this very important document, and to try to decrease criminal activities which can embarrass the nation.
Well, there’s another to report tonight, which involved the launching of the Personal Identification and Registration System.
It was done with a little bit of ceremony, this morning and 7News attended. Daniel Ortiz has that report:
Daniel Ortiz reporting
This morning, the arrival section of the Phillip Goldson International Airport was buzzing with activity. But, it wasn’t the usual activity where lines of visiting and returning passengers waited to be processed by the Belize Immigration Department. Everywhere we looked around the immigration hall, there were reminders that the cameras, and by extension the media, was not really allowed to be here. But this was no ordinary day.
Today was a celebration of a Belize’s debut unto the stage where sophisticated border entrances around the world do their best to detect transnational criminals as they make attempts to enter the country. And as such, it needed special note to the nation and to the international community that Belize is stepping up its game.
It’s all due to the assistance of the US Embassy and the International Organization For Migration.
With this upgrade in technology, equipment and training, the Immigration officers learn quite a large volume of data about a traveler, the moment they present their documents. All that information is verified and with those obtained by international networks, which allows the officer to track the movements of the individual awaiting to be granted access to the country.
Hon. Godwin Hulse - Minister of Immigration
"It is wonderful to note that we're now all connected in the world. Not only will you enter now Belize and be a statistic on a piece of paper that used to mandear it's way through the immigration system and the Tourist Board system and find it's way somewhere in a filing cabinet. But you will be recognized now instantaneously across the country and possibly across the world. So it's a warning to those who may want to enter this beautiful country to do things that they're not suppose to do because we will catch you."
But to arrive here today, it has been a process which the different organizations had to work with Belizean authorities to improve their system.
Delbert Field - Representative, International Organization for Immigration
"The new system includes computer work stations, web cams, passport readers and fingerprint scanners which were installed at land, air and sea borders and district offices."
Margaret Hawthorne - Deputy Chief of Missions, US Embassy Belmopan
"The concept for this project began in 2010 and on May 2011 the US Embassy through the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) funded the intial assessment by the International Organization for Migration. For the next two years the Government of Belize and the US Government worked hand in hand to implement a solution to strenghten the capacity of Belize's immigration service to manage borders more efficiently. Finally, in January 2012 CARSI funded the entire project of a cost of $1 Million Belize dollars and they were chosen as the implementing partner. The project uses computers to detect and register all entry and exists into and out of Belize including all land and sea and air borders with the exception with the cruise ship terminal in Belize City. IOM customized the personal information and registeration system (PIRS), a computer management system for Belize. CARSI provided equipment such as computers to facilitate the efficient collection of data and data sharing between border posts and headquarters. And to make the project completely successful the IOM trained immigration officers in both practical and theoretical aspects of computers, data collection and passport verification procedures."
That process is now complete, and the Minister remarked that while the increased capability is certainly there, he feels that it the upgraded hub will now get the respect it deserves.
Hon. Godwin Hulse
"I am extremely pleased this morning when I walked in to see the hardware that we have established, lovely booths etc. - I felt like I was entering Miami, so thank you very much Ms. Margaret Hawthorne and the US Embassy for the big help in this. Thank you very much the IOM. Many many years ago, not so long ago this place used to name Stanley Field Airport and there was a 'chinchi' little building - for those of you that don't recognize that term it's a creole term meaning tiny. It was a small building on the side there and the plane landed and you walked whether it was rainy or sunny - you walked and entered a crowdy little room and they were about two immigration officers who were generally frightened of all these foreigners who were coming who looked imposing. You walked into Belize and that was it, it was the easiest country to enter and leave. We have graduated into the 21st century and I just heard we're entering the 22nd century ahead of everybody else."
And so after the ceremony of the occasion was over, and the new system was activated, the bosses themselves gave a demonstration of how the checking and processing works.
Jessica Heusner - Immigration Clerk 1
"As the person enters and comes to the desk - we scan the passport, the picture comes up, we also have to take a photograph of that person, fingerprint left and the right index finger and enter all appropriate data, where they're staying, where they're coming from - then the Nationality automatically comes up with the passport once it is scanned their Bio-data comes up. We don't need to enter that and all of that is saved and then the same thing is done for another passenger coming in, everything is registered and saved."
"How airtight is this system compared to what you were using before and the likelyhood of someone actually slipping by?"
"It's highly unlikely that somebody would slip by with this. The thing is that before you had a larger margin for error in that you had to write everything down - it was all manual before and you get tired, it's tedious and they would have skipped somebody, maybe not writing everything down because you had to do the name, date of birth and all of that had to be done manually. This way it's very unlikely, it would automatically come up because we have a manifest with how many passengers come in on each flight so after you check it at the end of the day for statistics, you would see that a person was not entered and you would see who made that mistake."
But while human errors may still be possible, and there is now a detection system for that, the Immigration Minister is confident that his team is very diligent and honorable.
Hon. Godwin Hulse
"Mrs. Estrada and her team start with a very beautiful smile when you are in these lines but are dead serious to keep our country safe, give them a big hand."
Maria Marin - Director of Immigration & Nationality Services
"And the entire - let me call it 'fraternity' of the Immigration officers, clerks, support staff express deep gratitude for this significant contribution to the advancement and improvement of the department and our country."
Hon. Godwin Hulse
"One of the most important things of the system is that it gives us the facility - this is hardware and software, it does nothin by itself. It gives that team of experts standing at the back under the able management of the director - the facility to be able to do their work better and that is what is important. It always resides in human beings - no matter how imporved the hardware and the software is - it's the people that make the difference. Again I want to make sure I single out and congratulate all my officers."
And according to the Minister, criminals will continue to try to circumvent the state of the art systems around the world, but the authorities must try to stay one step ahead of them.
Hon. Godwin Hulse
"It is important because as you've heard many people say - we are slowly but surely becoming a transit point for trafficking persons, for smuggling person and that is what we're trying to detect. Unfortunately the cameras this morning showed the arrival - the departure is more important because we have been checking in the people coming in to the best of our knowledge but we can't check on them leaving. This system allows us now to check on those leaving so we can know who is over stayed their time,who has skipped the country illegally and who is going where and that is important for us. Having been a sports person for a long time which people don't know and I like football too - you will note that we tried to defend our goal. And we defended our goal and now and then a penalty kick gets through but people understand that that penalty doesn't come very easy so you have to be on your guard - we are going to defend our port."
And so, while that was the launching ceremony, today, with the assistance of the Government Press Office, we got a look at how the system worked when the Immigration Hall was actually opened for business.
From these images, the process looked very smooth, and all arriving passengers didn’t experience any long delays.