Nov 30, 2014
With the President’s executive order to “temporarily” legalize five million illegal immigrants in this country, national security experts say it’s time to implement real biometric passports as well as strict entry and exit programs at all U.S. ports of entry.
What exactly is biometrics?
The biometric system uses a fingerprint to identify a foreigner entering and leaving the country. Currently, customs officers only use biographic means to match an identification card to an airline manifest at the time of entry into the United States. The benefits of a biometric system would provide immigration officers with valuable information regarding those who overstay their visas. (This group roughly makes up 40 percent of illegal population).
An effective biometric exit system would flag individuals and make the search for terrorists a bit easier. U.S Customs currently uses the Trusted Traveler program to provide swift reentry through Customs for pre-screened travelers. For Americans re-entering the U.S. a simplified fingerprint confirmation through the Global Entry System expedite the customs process and provides Customs agents with up to the minute status on travelers. (Watch SD6 TV segment here)
Since the early 1970s numerous terrorist organizations have provided operatives with a wide variety of counterfeit documents. After showing their bogus passports and papers to border control agents, the terrorist operatives proceeded to hijack airplanes, plant bombs, and carry out assassinations. However, many of these terrorist acts can be stopped. The 9/11 Commission Report’s border counsel and Executive Director of BORDERPOL, Americas Program, Janice Kephart, says the U.S. can effectively screen all travelers entering and leaving the country.
Nevertheless, when it comes to interior enforcement and the removal of criminal immigrants the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) opted to hamstring law enforcement agencies attempting to successfully share criminal databases. For example, DHS decided to terminate the “Secure Communities” program. This program allowed immigration agents to cross check foreign nationals’ fingerprints against the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) criminal database. This collaboration often led to deportation hearings for those arrested for lesser offenses like DUIs or driving without a driver’s license.
“The goal of Secure Communities was to more effectively identify and facilitate the removal of criminal aliens in the custody of state and local law enforcement agencies. But the reality is the program has attracted a great deal of criticism, is widely misunderstood, and is embroiled in litigation,” DHS Secretary and author of President Obama’s new deferred deportation program Jeh Johnson said.
In its place, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will implement a new Priority Enforcement Program (PEP). The PEP program will use fingerprint-based biometric data submitted to local agencies through FBI databases, but the refined search will only allow federal agents to deport criminal aliens convicted of a federal offense or represent a threat to national security. During his prime time immigration speech, the president said law enforcement would now prioritize suspected terrorists, gang members and convicted felons.
“In other words, unless the alien poses a demonstrable risk to national security, enforcement actions through the new program will only be taken against aliens who are convicted of specifically enumerated crimes,” Johnson explained in a memo.
Why biometrics can work
One of America’s staunchest allies, Australia just spent $700 million to upgrade their biometric border clearance system pertaining to national security. The Aussies adopted the biometric clearance system that provided border officials with up-to-the minute watch list information, biometric e-gate exit system as well as a smart gate entry program.
Yet 13 years after 9/11 and the U.S. government still has not implemented biometric borders that the 9/11 Commission recommended. The committee concluded that the 9/11 terrorists had engaged in a specific terrorist travel operation because they knew U.S. ports of entry were easily penetrable.
The Commission report highlighted this weakness on page 384: “Terrorists must travel clandestinely to meet, train, plan, case targets, and gain access to attack. To them, international travel presents great danger, because they must surface to pass through regulated channels, present themselves to border security officials, or attempt to circumvent inspection points. In their travels, terrorists use evasive methods, such as altered and counterfeit passports and visas, and immigration and identity fraud.”
After the war on terror was underway, America installed biometric readers and issued passports with biometric data embedded to meet new international standards. Unfortunately, the U.S. only got it half right and failed to implement an exit system using the same biometric data to track illegal use of travel documents. Kephart asserts that the likelihood of success for a stolen passport to be used for purchase, check-in and departure of an international flight decreases substantially when an exit program is in place.
National security experts also contend the implementation of an airport biometric exit program and improvements to biometric entry processes are not only possible and capable of meeting essential border control criteria, but are long overdue.
Kephart testified before the House Judiciary Committee in November of 2013 regarding this topic. “Secure Identity and Biometrics Association (SIBA) members are innovators of solutions that protect and secure identity across private and public platforms. The Working Group we have formed includes innovators that have worked with DHS for years on identity solutions, and others responsible for deploying huge biometric border systems overseas. These are the people that know how to develop and deploy holistic identity and biometric solutions that meet the demands of the traveling public, national security and privacy. It is pivotal that the Department of Homeland Security properly engage the Airport Entry and Exit Working Group now so the best biometric entry-exit solutions can be deployed as quickly as possible.”
However, last year’s Senate comprehensive immigration bill 744 neglected to include a biometric exit program.
Utah Senator Mike Lee said, SB744 substantially rolled back current law mandating a biometric entry/exit system at all ports of entry (air, land, sea), as required by six different statutes dating back to 1996, and as recommended by the 9/11 Commission. “Instead, the bill provides for a non-biometric exit system, which is easily circumvented through fraud, and only at air and sea ports. Amendments to prevent these rollbacks were rejected, including: Sessions 4/Sessions 6: Require the implementation of a biometric exit system at all ports of entry, as required by current law, before legalization begins, or before expanding the Visa Waiver Program (rejected),” he explained.
According to a 2013 GAO Report: “DHS faces challenges planning for a biometric exit system at air and sea ports of entry. Beginning in 1996, federal law has required the implementation of an integrated entry and exit data system for foreign nationals. As of April 2013, DHS’s planning efforts are focused on developing a biometric exit system for airports, with the potential for a similar solution at sea ports. However, in October 2010, DHS identified key challenges as to why it has been unable to determine how and when to implement a biometric air exit capability, including challenges in determining what personnel should be responsible for the capture of biometric information.”
Another roadblock for the exclusion of the biometric exit program is cost. DHS claims the expense for implementing the program is $3.1 to $6.4 billion and they are reluctant to slow exit/outbound travelers.
A 2010 GAO report further illustrated other concerns an exit program may create.
“[I] n October 2010, DHS identified three primary reasons why it has been unable to determine how and when to implement a biometric air exit solution: (1) the methods of collecting biometric data could disrupt the flow of travelers through air terminals; (2) air carriers and airport authorities had not allowed DHS to examine mechanisms through which DHS could incorporate biometric data collection into passenger processing at the departure gate; and (3) challenges existed in capturing biometric data at the point of departure, including determining what personnel should be responsible for the capture of biometric information at airports”
The question is whether the new GOP majority in Congress will take the opportunity to craft an integrated plan for an effective, painless, and expeditious entry exit biometric system or if they will play the gridlock game indefinitely.
For previous immigration story click here
© Copyright 2014 Kimberly Dvorak All Rights Reserved.