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.