Believe it or not, the Kentucky Consular Center celebrated its 20th anniversary in Williamsburg on Oct. 25.
The center has undergone numerous changes over the years. When it first opened, the center employed 45 people and its main concentration was on the U.S. Diversity Visa program, which allows about 50,000 people to permanently immigrate to the United States each year legally.
By and large, these are people, who are trying to do it the right and legal way. When the center first opened all the files were paper. Each file consisted of a Banker’s Box sized box of files that were forms, background checks, etc. on each applicant.
These boxes were stacked on shelving that went all the way to the ceiling, which is quite high in that building. The boxes took up about half of the building. It was a sight to behold.
Later, the files all became electronic, and staffing at the center dropped down to about two dozen people for a while.
While processing the visa applications, workers at this little office in Williamsburg began noticing similarities in the pictures of some people applying for visas, and determined that some applicants were trying to game the system by applying more than once, which isn’t allowed.
Williamsburg’s workers pioneered a facial recognition system that is in use to this day. A computerized system keeps a database of pictures of all applicants that is cross checked with databases of people on various watch lists. The computers will go through and flag photos that appear similar, and Williamsburg’s workers will compare the pictures to see if there is an actual match by looking at various facial features that can’t be easily changed.
In other words, Williamsburg workers, who perform about 40 million recognition tests per year, often times help keep the bad guys from even getting into this country.
The system is streamlined and it typically takes workers about 20 seconds on average to check each flagged photograph. I’ve seen demonstrations over the years and it is quite impressive.
As of the last story that I did on the Kentucky Consular Center, it employed nearly 500 people.
Congratulations to all of the current and former employees there for all the work that you have done and will continue to do.
Now let me touch on a couple of other things before I conclude this column.
• While numerous jokes have been made about the efficiency or lack thereof by the United States Postal Service, the hardworking folks there largely do a good job and get the overwhelming amount of mail delivered to the right place in a timely manner. This isn’t to say that some things don’t get lost or delayed in the mail.
Let me offer an example.
A few weeks back, one of my co-workers brought in about six weeks of the Mountain Citizen – a weekly newspaper we subscribe to – that had just arrived in the mail all at one time, with the earliest issue going back to July.
The moral of this column thread is that while the postal service overall does a great job, if you are planning to vote by mail, then I would strongly recommend hand delivering your ballot to the Whitley County Clerk’s Office, which has locations in the old courthouse in Williamsburg, and in the old Corbin City Hall. Both buildings have a drop box that you can use, and this way you can ensure that your vote arrives in time to get counted.
• Just a reminder that the November General Election will take place next Tuesday, Nov. 3, and Whitley County has two polling locations that will be open from 6 a.m. – 6 p.m., the Corbin Primary School Gym and the Whitley County High School Gym.
Please inform yourself about the issues and go vote.
Also, let me point out that we still have plenty of time to do early voting between now and Election Day at the county clerk’s offices in Corbin and Williamsburg. This is a great way to avoid long lines at the polls that often happen on Election Day.
• Speaking of informing yourselves before you go to the polls, the News Journal is running our candidate surveys of both the Corbin City Commission and Williamsburg City Council candidates in this week’s paper. Dean Manning has also put together coverage about our two contested Whitley County Board of Education races, and has written a story about the virtual candidate’s forum Monday night for the Corbin City Commission candidates. The Southern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce organized the forum, which was moderated by News Journal Publisher Don Estep.