DHS moves to implement biometric tracking for visa overstays

I seem to recall the media erupting in howls of laughter when New Jersey Governor Chris Christie suggested using biometric scanning to track foreign nationals who overstay their visa and remain in the United States illegally. Critics were suggesting that we could somehow track these illegals like FedEx packages. There was similar skepticism when Donald Trump agreed with him and it led to speculation over whether or not this would be a policy which would be implemented if Christie wound up with a high ranking role in a potential Trump administration. Pretty crazy stuff, right?

I would have thought so too, except the Department of Homeland Security is preparing to do it before the next President is even seated. (NextGov)

The Homeland Security Department is asking industry how to go about contracting out the activation of a long-overdue system for scanning the biological traits of foreigners when they leave.

The potentially $7.2 billion technology operation is needed so individuals who overstay their visits don’t go unnoticed, lawmakers have said ever since the Sept. 11 plane hijackings.

Homeland Security deployed mandatory technologies for matching the fingerprints of entrants against FBI records and watchlists in 2004. Now, there is a plan for rolling out “biometric exit systems” at airports in 2018, so authorities can keep a closer eye on who has and has not left the country.

In written testimony to Congress last week, DHS officials admitted that the United States, “did not build its land border, aviation and immigration infrastructure with exit processing in mind.”

That’s an understatement to say the least. We face significant challenges when it comes to figuring out who is entering the country as it is. We have virtually no security infrastructure in place to figure out when they leave. But this is something of a parallel to other challenges we face on the domestic front. For the best example, consider the idea of registering people to vote. It’s a far from perfect system, but we do register new voters and record their addresses. But that’s only how you get into the system. We have little to no idea when people move or even die so that they can be taken off the voter rolls. We’re pretty good at beginnings, but not so hot with endings.

The problem with this biometrics plan is that it’s really only going to give us the ability to update our records and have a better idea of how many people are departing on schedule. That’s not peanuts and clearly needs to be done, but it really just allows us to close the books on visitors when their stay is complete. It’s true that you could likely use this data to subtract from the total number of visa holders entering the country and then develop a list of those who are here illegally, but it’s not really a tracking system, is it? Then again, if we could refine the list to that level of detail I suppose we might be able to more easily issue bench warrants for those who fail to leave.

Still, we’re not going to have any real resource for tracking the overstays unless they let us start microchipping all the visitors like dogs at a shelter. And nobody is going to suggest that, right? Right? Or is it just me?

Airport