Chris Chmielenski's picture


  by  Chris Chmielenski

Ever since the Senate Judiciary Committee began its consideration of the Gang of Eight's amnesty bill nearly two weeks ago, one topic has been a recurring theme -- a biometric exit/entry system. After defeating a number of strong amendments to include biometrics in the Gang's bill, the Committee passed an amendment on Monday that was offered by Sen. Orrin Hatch. But Sen. Hatch's amendment actually weakens current law and does nothing to make S.744 any better.

In 1996, Congress required the creation of a biometric exit/entry system at all ports of entry. It's now 17 years later, and yet we're no closer to a biometric system.

The Gang of Eight brags about how their bill not only requires completion of the entry/exit system, but it's also a trigger, meaning it has to be implemented before the nation's 11 million illegal aliens can obtain a green card. Illegal aliens can still receive legal status; they just can't receive their green cards until the system is complete (unless Congress decides otherwise between now and then).

But the Gang of Eight weakens the biometric exit/entry system passed in 1996 in two ways. First, it only requires an electronic system in lieu of a biometric one, and second, it only requires the system to be implemented in air and sea ports, excluding the 106 land ports where the vast majority of border crossings take place.

Republicans on the Committee, with some support from Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein have fought to upgrade the Gang's entry/exit system. The remaining Democrats on the Committee and the Republican Gang of Eight members -- Senators Jeff Flake and Lindsey Graham -- finally caved and supported Sen. Hatch's amendment.

The result: the Gang of Eight can now claim their bill includes a biometric system, and, more importantly, they took one step closer to securing a 'yes' vote from Sen. Hatch.

Sen. Hatch's amendment, however, is flawed and still weakens the 1996 law. First, it only requires biometrics at airports; the 1996 law required biometrics at land and sea ports as well. Second, Sen. Hatch's amendment doesn't cover all airports; it only covers the 10 busiest airports. The most amount of airports that will ever have a biometric exit system under Sen. Hatch's amendment is 30. No seaports. No land ports.

Senator Chuck Schumer has argued against every single biometric amendment since the markups began. He said that a biometric system would cost $25 billion and take too long to implement, causing it to become a permanent roadblock to the 11 million illegal aliens who want green cards.

A 2009 internal report prepared by the Department of Homeland Security found otherwise. (View the Report.)

In the late spring/early summer of 2009, DHS conducted a pilot biometric airport exit study at both Atlanta and Detroit airports. The program processed 30,000 aliens who were subject to biometric processing and found that 191 were identified as watch list hits and 150 were suspected visa overstays. The report further found that the system had no impact on the boarding time of passengers. Out of the 30,000 aliens processed only one refused to provide fingerscans.

More importantly, however, were the costs and the implementation time. The pilot program cost $7 million to implement at both airports. The report estimated that implementation at all of America's airports would only cost about $50 million. When you add in the manpower needed to staff the scanners, the annual cost would be about $150 million, so an upfront cost of $200 million would have the system up and running in a year's time.

The pilot program ran over a five-week period from May 28, 2009 - July 2, 2009. It was implemented at the nation's 6th busiest airport in terms of international travel (Atlanta), and the nation's 15th busiest airport in terms of total passenger traffic (Detroit). While no conclusion was made about the implementation time, it seems clear that a system across all airports could be implemented fairly quick.

Sen. Marco Rubio obviously applauded the Committee's action on Monday.

"The amendment adopted today is a good start and I will continue to fight to make the tracking of entries and exits include biometrics in the most effective system we can build when the bill is amended on the Senate floor," he said.

For once, Sen. Rubio's may be right in his assessment. The Hatch amendment is a good start, but that's all it is - a start. The government has no explanation for not implementing a biometric exit/entry system at all airports in the years after 1996, and especially after the DHS pilot program conducted in 2009.

CHRIS CHMIELENSKI is the Director of Content & Activism for NumbersUSA

Interior Enforcement
Illegal Immigration
border control
entry/exit system

Updated: Tue, May 21st 2013 @ 12:54pm EDT

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