airport, fingerprint, immigration, interoperability, travel, US, visa

US: Entry/exit dominating today’s biometrics news

An amendment to the immigration bill being discussed in the Senate Judiciary Committee has been all over the news this morning.

See:
Senators propose fingerprinting at airport security (Click Orlando), and
US senators approve immigration changes requiring fingerprint system at 30 airports (Truth Dive)

This Reuters piece is more detailed:
US panel votes to speed up airport fingerprinting of immigrants (Reuters)

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 13-5 for an amendment to a wide-ranging immigration bill that would require the installation of devices to check immigrants’ fingerprints at the 10 busiest U.S. airports within two years of enactment of the legislation.

Checks currently are made at airports for foreigners arriving and re-entering the country but not when they leave. “It’s just a matter of having records we can keep so we know where we’re going,” Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah told reporters of his successful amendment.

The committee’s work commands worldwide attention because it’s personal to many people because of their own travel habits, aspirations for immigration or education, or the living situation of friends or loved-ones.

It is also of worldwide importance because the United States will have a large role to play in any eventual interoperable international system accounting for international travel.

The amendment adopted by the committee would, in the event of the bill’s passage, institute a fingerprint-based entry/exit system starting with the ten busiest U.S. airports over two years.

The best framing I have read of the lack of-, case for-, and challenges associated with a decent entry/exit system is David Grant’s Immigration reform: What to do about those who arrive legally but never leave?

And in March, we wrote:

[… R]elevant to integrating the entry and exit points is the percentage of international travelers who enter a country through one international travel node and depart the country from another.

The more nodes, the more travelers, the more complex the travel patterns of international visitors, all of these things place additional pressures on any sort of entry/exit system and these complexities don’t necessarily increase as a linear function.

Of course all of this has bearing on the United States which has every challenge there is. It’s not surprising that, biometrics or no biometrics, the US lacks a comprehensive integrated entry/exit system. A couple of good pilot projects might go a long way towards getting an idea of the exact scope of some of the challenges, though. [emph. added]

With that in mind, does the committee’s amendment fit in with the idea of a “good pilot” project? I think so. Despite reluctance to call anything happening in the ten busiest airports in the country a “pilot project,” so as not to trivialize the challenges involved, the scope of a truly comprehensive entry/exit system accounting for all air, sea and land transport is so vast that it does make “pilot project” seem appropriate here.

But in order for this avenue to a pilot actually to lead there, even in two years, the whole immigration bill currently being fashioned in the Judiciary Committee must pass the full U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. Even if the broader immigration overhaul fails to attract majority legislative support, the 13-5 committee vote may bode well for the pilot on a stand-alone basis. You have to start somewhere.

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