U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has announced plans to begin collecting biometric data from non-U.S. citizens entering and exiting the country in early 2016. CBP will install six new kiosks at San Diego’s Otay Mesa port across the border from Tijuana, Mexico and hope to be collecting both entry and exit data by February.
Implementation of a biometric entry/exit system was a recommendation of the 9/11 Commission and has been approved and funded by Congress on at least six other occasions, but has yet to be implemented nationwide. The CBP release said that the Department of Homeland Security would not use the data to track down visa overstayers.
The kiosks are expected to take only seconds to read the iris as well as facial characteristics of foreign visitors.
The trial run is funded until June 2016 and will help the federal government determine if they should expand the program to all land crossings across the 1,954-mile border with Mexico.
Those under the age of 14 or older than 79 will be exempt from the program and no biometric data will be collected from U.S. citizens.
The program is targeted to help reduce visa overstays. A Pew Hispanic Center study estimates that between 40 percent and 50 percent of illegal aliens currently living in the U.S. entered on nonimmigrant visas and failed to leave once their visa expired. Currently there is no exit system in place at land crossings so the federal government cannot check to see if a visa holder has left the country.
“CBP is committed to developing a system that provides biometric exit data on non-U.S. citizens in a way that does not disrupt air, sea, or land port operations, but, rather secures and facilitates travel and trade,” said San Diego Field Operations Director Pete Flores in a press release. “This test will help inform on next steps to developing and implementing biometric exit in the land pedestrian environment.”
The CBP statement also said that “the images taken during the testing will be used for purposes of this limited project only and will not be retained or shared with any other party or system. CBP remains committed to protecting the privacy of all travelers.”
Congress first mandated an electronic entry/exit system in 1996 in the Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, but the system was never created.
Then the 9/11 Commission recommended a biometric entry/exit system after the 2001 terrorist attack in which four of the terrorists entered the U.S. on visas and overstayed. Congress approved the system in 2004 and has appropriated funding for the creation of the program six times, yet this is the first trial of a biometric entry/exit system in the U.S.
Read more on this story at The San Diego Union Tribune.
Updated: Fri, Feb 19th 2016 @ 11:17am EST