Immigrants to be Tracked Through Biometrics

According to news reports, the House Homeland Security subcommittee has been told that a biometric data plan will be ready for presentation to Congress within weeks. The plan, introduced by the Department of Homeland Security, will use biometrics to keep tabs on when immigrants leave the US. Since before 2011, experts have been seeking an exit system that would effectively keep track of who leaves the country when. Secretary Janet Napolitano have all expressed interest in such an exit system and have even said that it is needed, but cost concerns have kept such a system from being introduced.

John Cohen, the deputy counter terrorism coordinator for the Department of Homeland Security has stated that there is a problem with immigrants overstaying their visas. Although he has not said how much the new exit strategy using biometrics will cost, he has said that the proposed system will help authorities track more accurately those who have overstayed their visas.

The focus of the Obama administration is on illegal immigrants who have committed crimes or who pose a public threat. However, some people who have been implicated in US terrorist attacks or plots were in the country illegally after overstaying visas. In fact, 36 visa overstays have been convicted of charges related to terrorism since 2001. An estimated 40% of illegal immigrants in the US are visa overstays, according to some experts. This has made more authorities focus in the issue of visa overstays.

According to John Cohen, technology has made it easier to store and collect information about immigrants. He says that this has helped identify possible threats to public safety and even to target visa overstays. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) also routinely works to find visa overstays, usually by reviewing visa records to find out who has overstayed a visa. Between 2009 and 2011, about 37 000 visa overstays were deported from the US.

In 2011, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) conducted a massive review of backlogged possible visa overstay cases. The review encompassed 1.6 million cases dating back to 2004. About half of those cases were found to involve people who had changed their immigration status or had left the US. About 2700 cases were recommended for further investigation. However, the cases recommended for further recommendation usually involve those who may have committed crimes or may otherwise be a threat to US security. ICE and other agencies rarely commit resources to tracking and deporting visa overstays unless they commit crimes or pose a security threat. According to the Department of Homeland Security, this can make it hard to find visa overstays. As well, immigrants who arrived prior to 2004 were not subject to the same strict biometrics collection processes, making them visually impossible to find unless they commit a crime.