Lawmakers press for automated exit system

Some lawmakers are looking for the Obama administration to deploy an automated biometrics system to verify the departure of noncitizens

Some members of Congress are pressing the Obama administration to deploy an automated biometric exit system to verify the departure of noncitizens from the United States.

In 1996, Congress first issued a requirement for the development of an automated entry and exit system to keep track of noncitizens who visit the United States. Progress on the exit system has been slow, and in 2007, Congress gave the Homeland Security Department a deadline of June 30, 2009, to implement a biometrics-based exit system for air travelers. But DHS missed that requirement.

Last month, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee’s Immigration, Refugees and Border Security Subcommittee, wrote Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano urging her to advance the visitor tracking program, the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology program (US-VISIT), and said he would hold a hearing on the matter.

“Any entry system has extremely limited value if it cannot be coupled with an exit system that tracks whether those who have entered the United States on temporary visas have exited the country as required by law,” Schumer wrote.

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, said the Obama administration must make US-VISIT a high priority and work with Congress to ensure it is funded adequately. The biometrics-based exit system would be part of US-VISIT, which already collects fingerprints from visitors from other countries when they arrive in the United States.

"Administrations have not shown a commitment to an exit system,” said Smith, who sponsored the legislation in 1996 that required the development of an automated entry and exit system.

He added that the current paper-based exit system is voluntary and unreliable. “If a departing traveler even fills out the form, there is no way to be sure he is who he says he is because the system relies on self-reporting,” Smith said. "What's to stop a terrorist from having someone submit their name so that federal law enforcement authorities think he has left America?”

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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