U.S. Is Dropping Effort to Track if Visitors Leave


Richard Moore

This article illustrates the hypocrisy of the War on Terror. If they were really
worried about terrorists, they would certainly want to know who enters and 
leaves the country.  When it comes to making war and taking away our freedoms 
they don't seem to be bothered by budgetary constraints.


Original source URL:

December 15, 2006

U.S. Is Dropping Effort to Track if Visitors Leave

WASHINGTON, Dec. 14 ‹ In a major blow to the Bush administration¹s efforts to 
secure borders, domestic security officials have for now given up on plans to 
develop a facial or fingerprint recognition system to determine whether a vast 
majority of foreign visitors leave the country, officials say.

Domestic security officials had described the system, known as U.S. Visit, as 
critical to security and important in efforts to curb illegal immigration. 
Similarly, one-third of the overall total of illegal immigrants are believed to 
have overstayed their visas, a Congressional report says.

Tracking visitors took on particular urgency after the Sept. 11 terrorist 
attacks, when it became clear that some of the hijackers had remained in the 
country after their visas had expired.

But in recent days, officials at the Homeland Security Department have conceded 
that they lack the financing and technology to meet their deadline to have 
exit-monitoring systems at the 50 busiest land border crossings by next 
December. A vast majority of foreign visitors enter and exit by land from Mexico
and Canada, and the policy shift means that officials will remain unable to 
track the departures.

A report released on Thursday by the Government Accountability Office, the 
nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress, restated those findings, reporting 
that the administration believes that it will take 5 to 10 years to develop 
technology that might allow for a cost-effective departure system.

Domestic security officials, who have allocated $1.7 billion since the 2003 
fiscal year to track arrivals and departures, argue that creating the program 
with the existing technology would be prohibitively expensive.

They say it would require additional employees, new buildings and roads at 
border crossings, and would probably hamper the vital flow of commerce across 
those borders.

Congress ordered the creation of such a system in 1996.

In an interview last week, the assistant secretary for homeland security policy,
Stewart A. Baker, estimated that an exit system at the land borders would cost 
³tens of billions of dollars² and said the department had concluded that such a 
program was not feasible, at least for the time being.

³It is a pretty daunting set of costs, both for the U.S. government and the 
economy,² Mr. Stewart said. ³Congress has said, ŒWe want you to do it.¹ We are 
not going to ignore what Congress has said. But the costs here are daunting.

³There are a lot of good ideas and things that would make the country safer. But
when you have to sit down and compare all the good ideas people have developed 
against each other, with a limited budget, you have to make choices that are 
much harder.²

The news sent alarms to Congress, where some Republicans and Democrats warned 
that suspending the monitoring plan would leave the United States vulnerable.

Representative Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican who is a departing 
subcommittee chairman on the House International Relations Committee, said the 
administration could not say it was protecting domestic security without 
creating a viable exit monitoring system.

³There will not be border security in this country until we have a knowledge of 
both entry and exit,² Mr. Rohrabacher said. ³We have to make a choice. Do we 
want to act and control our borders or do we want to have tens of millions of 
illegals continuing to pour into our country?²

Representative Bennie Thompson, the Mississippi Democrat who is set to lead the 
Homeland Security Committee, also expressed concern.

³It is imperative that Congress work in partnership with the department to 
develop a comprehensive border security system that ensures we know who is 
entering and exiting this country and one that cannot be defeated by imposters, 
criminals and terrorists,² Mr. Thompson said in a statement Thursday.

In January 2004, domestic security officials began fingerprint scanning for 
arriving visitors. The program has screened more than 64 million travelers and 
prevented more than 1,300 criminals and immigration violators from entering, 
officials said.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and other officials often call the 
program a singular achievement in making the country safer. U.S. Visit 
fingerprints and photographs 2 percent of the people entering the country, 
because Americans and most Canadians and Mexicans are exempt.

Efforts to determine whether visitors actually leave have faltered. Departure 
monitoring would help officials hunt for foreigners who have not left, if 
necessary. Domestic security officials say, however, it would be too expensive 
to conduct fingerprint or facial recognition scans for land departures. 
Officials have experimented with less costly technologies, including a system 
that would monitor by radio data embedded in a travel form carried by foreigners
as they depart by foot or in vehicles.

Tests of that technology, Radio Frequency Identification, found a high failure 
rate. At one border point, the system correctly identified 14 percent of the 166
vehicles carrying the embedded documents, the General Accountability Office 

The Congressional investigators noted the ³numerous performance and reliability 
problems² with the technology and said it remained unclear how domestic security
officials would be able to meet their legal obligation to create an exit 

Some immigration analysts said stepping away from the program raised questions 
again about the commitment to enforce border security and immigration laws.

A senior policy analyst at the Center for Immigration Studies, Jessica Vaughn, 
said the government had long been too deferential to big businesses and travel 
groups that raised concerns that exit technology might disrupt travel and trade.

³I worry that the issue of cost is an excuse for not doing anything,² said Ms. 
Vaughn, whose group advocates curbing immigration. Domestic security officials 
said they still hoped to find a way to create an exit system at land borders. 
³We would to do more testing,² a spokesman for the department, Jarrod Agen, 
said. ³We are evaluating the initial tests to determine how to move forward.²

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

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