US-VISIT program offers no exit

DHS discontinued testing a RFID biometric exit system for land crossings

Border security: US-VISIT program faces strategic, operational and technological challenges at land ports of entry

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The Homeland Security Department has no exit strategy for monitoring visitors leaving the United States at land border crossings, or at least none that can be fulfilled anytime soon.

Robert Mocny, acting director of the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) program, told lawmakers this month that DHS discontinued testing a radio frequency identification (RFID) biometric exit system for land crossings. No further testing is under way, he added.
Mocny said DHS used biometric testing in a concept program to identify which technologies might work at land borders, but it had no plans to install a specific technology immediately. Other priorities take precedence, he said.

Richard Barth, assistant secretary of DHS’ Office of Policy Development, said the department’s first priority is to implement a 10-fingerprint collection system for noncitizens. The 10-fingerprint standard would replace existing two-fingerprint matching systems. A full set of fingerprints, Barth said, would give immigration and law enforcement officials worldwide greater access to more data and would match the 10-fingerprint sets stored in international data banks.

Barth said a comprehensive RFID biometrics exit program poses significant challenges, such as the necessity of configuring the solution for three border environments: air, sea and land. “Not one of these ports was designed to accommodate exit controls,” he said.

Enabling someone to collect biometric and biographic information upon exit through a land port would require a costly expansion of exit capacity, including physical infrastructure, land acquisition and staffing, Barth said. At some land crossings, such as Detroit’s bridge and tunnel to Canada, no land is available on which to build the needed facilities.

But although the challenges are significant, they are not insurmountable, Barth said. “There are ways to approach a land border solution, and we intend to pursue them.”

DHS has proposed a phased deployment of exit technology beginning with airports, followed by seaports and then land crossings. “We’re beginning at airports primarily to focus on travelers from countries of interest,” 91 percent of whom arrive by air, Barth said. “It’s absolutely essential for us to know what travelers from these countries have complied with the terms of their
admission.”

Biometric exit tests at 14 air and sea locations demonstrated that biometric technologies work, Barth said. However, installing biometric exit systems at land crossings would be exceedingly expensive and could create hours-long traffic backups, he said. Nevertheless, he added, “we are closely monitoring technology solutions that could resolve the land border challenges without the extraordinary infrastructure investment that would otherwise be required.”

To upgrade exit-crossing facilities at San Ysidro, Calif., for example, would cost $500 million, not including additional land and payroll costs, Mocny said. He added that to achieve 100 percent compliance, a biometric exit solution would have to be integrated into other travel activities, such as check-in, security screening and preboarding.

About the Author

David Hubler is the former print managing editor for GCN and senior editor for Washington Technology. He is freelance writer living in Annandale, Va.

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