More extensive tourist fingerprinting comes to U.S. ports
America's JFK Airport is the 10th port of entry requiring noncitizen visitors to scan all 10 fingers.
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"Everyone's data is being stored and disseminated and there are definitely questions about the ability to keep this information secure, as well as whether it will be properly used," says Melissa Ngo, of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. "We also wonder why exactly there is a need to increasingly grow this database."Skip to next paragraph
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Customs and Border Protection officials insist that data will be securely stored and properly used. They also say keeping these databases will make it easier and more convenient for legitimate travelers by more accurately and efficiently verifying visitors' identities.
Since its inception in 2004, the current two-print system has snared 2,000 immigration violations, Mr. Mocny told reporters at the JFK event. Sixty percent were criminal violations; 40 percent were civil immigration violations. That has encouraged immigration experts, who are now hoping the system can be adapted for more efficient immigration enforcement against people who overstay their visas.
"US-VISIT has really proven its value for law- enforcement purposes, now we need to extend that to compliance purposes," says Jessica Vaughan, a senior policy analyst with the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington.
Currently, there are few if any ways to track whether people who arrive on a legal visit leave when their visas expire. For years, overstaying a visa was a fairly easy way to enter the US and stay illegally. After the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, Congress tasked the then-immigration services to track when people leave. But little if anything was done. It's only been in the last year or so that DHS has seriously begun working on the problem.
"It's extraordinarily important to have exit tracking," says Mark Krikorian, director of CIS. "But it's going to take a little bit of time, political capital and real investments in physical infrastructure at airports and land crossings."
So DHS decided it would start at the airports. It has already floated the idea of installing similar biometric machines at airport check-in counters and requiring ticket agents to collect fingerprints from foreign visitors when they leave. But the airlines have balked.
David Castelveter of the Air Transport Association, which represents the nation's major carriers, says that's because airlines now encourage people to check in online or at automated kiosks. But Mr. Castelveter says they're willing to work with DHS.
"We certainly don't have the answer yet," says US-VISIT's Mocny. "We're going to need the airlines' and the airports' cooperation and we need to hear from them and understand what their operations are."