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Cato Institute calls biometric exit program “a big waste of money”


The Cato Institute is calling on the U.S. Congress to resist efforts to fund the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS’s) biometric exit program through a DACA deal, calling it “a big waste of money.”

In a post written by Cato Institute Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity immigration policy analyst David Bier, the Institute recognizes the security value and practicality of the biometric entry program, US-VISIT, saying it undermines visa fraud.

The biometric exit program, in contrast, cannot be easily implemented due to the design and layouts of airports and land border crossings, according to the post, which quotes the Government Accountability Office (GAO) as saying it “would cause extensive delays.” The post also notes that DHS tests of biometric exit kiosks for pedestrian traffic failed because of the amount of help agents had to provide travelers and damage desert conditions caused to the equipment.

The post also says the program would have very limited benefits, as information provided by airlines allowed DHS to determine that 1 percent of travellers entering the U.S. by air and sea as having overstayed their visas in 2016. While DHS identified nearly 700,000 visitors overstaying their visas from 2004 to 2012, it arrested only 9,000 (1.2 percent), having spent only 2 percent of its time investigating overstays.

This low prioritization of overstay investigations by DHS is appropriate, the Institute says, because nearly half of those investigated either left the country or changed their legal status before being apprehended, and those who were arrested had “mainly” already been arrested by state and local authorities for other offences. The proposed biometric exit program would therefore add to a backlog of investigations, without a significant increase in arrests or improvement in security.

The cost of the biometric exit program is far beyond any minimal benefit, Bier writes, as DHS provided the Senate Judiciary Committee with an estimate in 2013 that it would cost the government $25 billion, while delays at the southern border of the U.S. cost the economy an estimated $6 billion a year in California alone.

“Biometric exit is a costly enforcement hammer without any nails to strike,” according to Bier. “DHS is already well aware of many visa overstays, but prioritizing them would mean ignoring higher priority and easier arrests. Without dramatic reductions in the illegal population, a crackdown on visa overstays will never make much sense, making biometric exit almost entirely superfluous.”

Earlier this month Georgetown University’s Center on Privacy and Technology suggested that the biometric exit program and its facial recognition scans are ineffective, not properly grounded in law, and possibly unnecessary.

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One Reply to “Cato Institute calls biometric exit program “a big waste of money””

  1. What you failed to mention is that while DHS can accurately identify Air and Sea overstays, based on improved accuracy of carrier provided data over the last several years, there is still a significant gap in outbound border crossing information on the South West Border. Unlike Canada, which DHS uses to get better Northern Border crossing information, Mexico doesn’t have the same entry controls on its border. Outside of some pilots, if you rechanneled the biometric exit money for a SW Land Border solution, it would be a far better way to implement a complete entry/exit system which transcends uses beyond overstay identification. In the Air/Sea environment, biometric exit is redundant if you can take biometrically confirmed arrivals and align them with departures, which DHS does today and is how they generated the cited FY16 overstay report, so use the exit funding to close the information gaps that exist today. Outside of limited 1% fraud cases, biometric exit should be rechanneled for the South West Border which will require significant infrastructure/technology to have a verified exit capability but most likely not the entire number cited in this article. Concerning the comments on overstay enforcement, it is true that overstays are for the most part leaving the country overtime. However, ICE needs better training and system access, also pointed in out in the OIG report I assume you also referenced. Also, ICEs priority for immigration enforcement vs. criminal, anti-terrorism and other law enforcement efforts is also at the heart of the problem. Why do we have so many different federal law enforcement agencies focusing on similar work, while basic immigration enforcement goes undone? The fact that there are two ICEs: HSI/ERO and only one speaks for the agency at the hearings cited is another issue in itself.
    Having a complete entry/exit system overtime would pay for itself through government savings associated with accurately identifying if a subject is in the country or not. Through government resource spending time to analyze if a person is here or not, to benefit fraud, the uses go beyond overstay identification. Something else to consider when saying the numbers don’t add up.

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