US-VISITprogram still ‘undefined’, report says

Published on Thu, Dec 21, 2006 by eg Olson

Read More News

US-VISIT program still ‘undefined’, report says

By Meg Olson

The timeline for implementing the exit portion of the US-VISIT program is now officially in the realm of “undefined,” according to the national program office.

In a new report the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) acknowledges that right now it isn’t feasible to give Congress what it wants: an entry and exit system that tracks individuals using biometrics yet doesn’t disrupt legitimate trade and travel.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released their report December 14 following a congressional request to review the implementation of the US-VISIT program at land ports of entry (POE).

“US-VISIT has not determined whether it can achieve, in a realistic time frame, or at an acceptable cost, the legislatively mandated capability to record the exit of travelers at land ports of entry using biometric technology,” the report concluded.

The congressional mandate for an automated system to track the entry and exit of every U.S. visitor began in 1996 with the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act.

That legislation ignited public concern that to stop traffic leaving the U.S. to monitor exits would cause significant traffic impacts and slow legitimate travel and trade.

U.S. Representative Rick Larsen said any exit strategy would have to balance security with mobility across the border. “Tracking visitors who leave the United States is a worthwhile goal,” he said. “However, we cannot implement a system at our border that will significantly hamper cross-border commerce.

“We need to continue to develop the best possible technologies that will provide a maximum amount of security and ensure the viability of cross border travel and commerce with our number one trading partner.”

Subsequent legislation in 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2004 moved the mandate towards the use of biometrics to increase security and cut processing time when it comes to matching the traveler with their valid travel documents.

“Biometric entry collection is fully deployed and operating successfully. It will continue,” said Anna Hinken, public information officer for the US-VISIT program.

U.S. VISIT collects information and two fingerprints from certain visitors at 154 of the nation’s 170 land POEs “usually with minimum construction or changes to existing facilities,” the GAO found, and the now-automated process has enhanced Custom and Border Protection’s ability to process those visitors subject to the program’s requirements.
Plans to increase security by moving from a two to a ten-fingerprint requirement and other enhancements, however, have the potential to impact older land-constrained POEs because “they could increase inspection times and adversely affect POE operations,” the GAO found.
Before moving forward CBP needs to better study the impact of such changes at land borders. Furthermore, the report recommended that better management practices be put in place to avoid or rapidly resolve problems such as “computer slowdowns or freezes.”

While US-VISIT is meeting its congressional mandate as visitors enter the country, the program is not as they leave.

Recent tests of radio-frequency US-VISIT cards at Blaine found they could detect when the card left the country, but not who was carrying it at the time.