DHSto expand US-VISIT program

Published on Thu, Nov 30, 2006 by eg Olson

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DHS to expand US-VISIT program

By Meg Olson

By next spring the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has plans to expand the US-VISIT program at all ports of entry to include Canadian commuters and green card holders.

Following a comment period this summer DHS is preparing a final rule that would require all aliens entering the United States to be fingerprinted and photographed. The only exceptions to the proposed rule would be those younger than 14 or older than 79 and most Canadians entering the U.S. who do not require a special visa or work permit – shoppers, those visiting family and friends, or on vacation.
Comments received by DHS expressed concern over longer waits as more people lined up for fingerprints, and over privacy, since records collected by US-VISIT are maintained for 100 years. A lawful permanent resident who becomes a citizen, for example, would stay in the system. “The records are maintained but not accessed,” DHS representative Anna Hinken said.

Today the US-VISIT program, in place since 2004, only collects that information at from non-immigrant visitors and business travelers, and Canadians workers are exempted. At the Pacific Highway port of entry, for example, visitors subject to US-VISIT are sent to secondary inspection, a digital photograph is taken and two digital fingerprints are collected and checked against databases of suspected terrorists, known criminals and those who have previously broken immigration laws.

At local ports of entry the proposed expansion of the program would most affect Canadian citizens entering the United States to work and legal permanent residents of the United States. Hinken said that most Canadian workers would need to register with US-VISIT when they renew their work visas. The process for green-card holders would be similar. Once the rule takes effect they would be required, the next time they enter the country or renew their card, to enroll with US-VISIT. The difference would be that, at the discretion of the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer, a green-card holder might need to re-enroll periodically at land borders, and every time they enter the U.S. at airports.

Legal permanent residents need to renew their travel documents every ten years, or less frequently in many cases, so without a technological way to tie the individual to the document, Hinken said the in-person check was necessary to match the US-VISIT record to the individual crossing the border.

Using a person’s fingerprint to activate a radio-frequency signal on a wallet-sized card will also be the solution to implementing the congressional mandate for US-VISIT to also collect exit information from visitors to the U.S. pilot program at Blaine’s Peace Arch tracked radio-tags as they left the country but was unable to match the departing tag with the person the card was issued to.
“We only knew the tag was leaving,” Hinken said.

That pilot program has been discontinued and results evaluated for use with other programs, she added.