Homeland Security

New immigration order pushes biometrics but lacks deadline

Shutterstock image (by Bruce Rolff): machine fingerprint. 

President Donald Trump signed a new version of his controversial executive order on immigration, modified to bar travelers from six majority-Muslim Middle Eastern countries.

Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Attorney General Jeff Sessions unveiled the new order on March 6 at a Washington, D.C., press conference.

The order, which takes effect March 16, will bar entry to foreign nationals from Sudan, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia and Yemen for 90 days. However, citizens from Iraq, which had been included in the previous order, won't be barred under the new one.

Senior White House, Department of Homeland Security and Justice Department officials on a briefing call with reporters in advance of the new order's announcement said that Iraq had been taken off the list because of its increased cooperation and data sharing in vetting its citizens applying for U.S. visas.

Although the officials wouldn't specify when asked by FCW during the briefing what Iraq specifically did to get removed from the list, they did say improved official travel documents from the country, increased sharing of verified information with the U.S and willingness to accept repatriations from the U.S. when needed were keys to getting Iraq off the list.

The remaining six governments, according to the White House official, couldn't provide data on travelers adequate to make security decisions about their coming into the country.

The White House official also said foreign nationals from the six countries in the order have significantly higher visa overstay rates compared to the average and can be difficult to remove because of their home government's political or bureaucratic disarray. Individuals from those countries who are found to have security concerns while in the U.S. can only be detained for six months under federal law, according to the official.

There is no timeline for removing countries from the list and no definitive way to tell when a country might be taken off, the official said.

The U.S. will begin assessing all counties' information sharing capabilities on a case-by-case basis beginning on March 16. That review will last for 90 days. Countries could be dropped or others added after that review period, he said.

The new order also told DHS to "expedite the completion and implementation" of a biometric entry-exit system for foreign travelers entering and leaving the U.S. The White House official on the call declined to provide a timeline for the expedited system's implementation. The order, the officials said, directs DHS to "ramp up as quickly as possible," on the project. "CBP is working diligently to meet that obligation," they said.

The president's previous order on immigration was met with public protests and accusations that the document wasn't vetted or reviewed by more than a handful of senior White House staff.

The new order, said the senior officials, won't be implemented until March 16, allowing time to get all agents and agencies involved up to speed. The order is also forward-looking; it will not stop travel by current visa holders.

"The Executive Order signed today is prospective in nature -- applying only to foreign nationals outside of the United States who do not have a valid visa," said Kelly in a statement on the new order.

This time, the White House official said, "there will be no daylight between agencies" involved with implementing the order and a smoother roll out. "It takes effect March 16 at 12:01 am.… You won't see any chaos at airports," they said.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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