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DHS struggles to deploy system to collect biometrics of departing travelers; proposed FY 2019 budget will help


The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) continues to work to deploy systems and procedures to collect the biographic and biometric data on travelers arriving into and departing the United States at land ports, but, “due to existing limitations in collecting departure data in the land environment, the 2017 mandated annual overstay report to Congress “provides limited departure and overstay information for land ports of entry, which DHS is required to collect and report by law,” according to the audit of DHS’s latest overstay report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

Overstays are described as “nonimmigrants who remain in the United States beyond the expiration of their authorized period of stay, regardless of whether they ultimately depart.” DHS has been given primary authority for identifying and addressing suspected overstays.

Identifying overstays is imperative for national security, public safety, and immigration enforcement.

According to GAO, “Each year, millions of foreign visitors, or nonimmigrants, legally enter the United States on a temporary basis under specific nonimmigrant categories. They may travel to the United States with or as permitted, without a nonimmigrant visa and then enter the United States after admission at a US port of entry for an authorized period of stay.”

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is the lead organization within DHS responsible for developing and implementing a comprehensive Entry/Exit system to confirm the identity of travelers arriving and departing the United States utilizing biometrics. It is tasked with inspecting all people seeking entry or applying for admission into the United States to determine their admissibility and compliance with US law.

“Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is the lead agency for enforcing immigration law in the interior of the United States,” and “is primarily responsible for overstay enforcement,” GAO pointed out, noting that US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) receives, processes, and maintains documentation pertaining to a nonimmigrant’s immigration status, including the extension or change of status, and works with ICE to ensure proper adherence to US immigration laws.”

CBP’s entry/exit program is focused on three primary efforts: closing biographic entry/exit gaps; leveraging existing technology for near-term targeted biometric operations, and long-term entry/exit transformation.

GAO pointed out that in Fiscal Year 2017, CBP began planning for a pilot test at the San Luis and Nogales, Arizona ports of entry to demonstrate the feasibility of acquiring photos of all arriving and departing travelers and comparing those photos using facial recognition to photos in government databases.”

CBP officials told GAO auditors “that the pilot test for arriving travelers began at the San Luis Port of Entry in September 2018 and the Nogales Port of Entry in October 2018.”

CBP has deployed an electronic process for identifying overstays who are suspected or known to have remained in the country beyond the expiration of their authorized period of stay.

“Specifically,” GAO’s audit report explained, “a suspected overstay is automatically flagged in CBP’s Arrival and Departure Information System (ADIS) when there is no record of the individual’s departure. The suspected overstay is then checked against other DHS immigration databases to determine whether the individual obtained an extension or other valid immigration status or protection and thus is not a potential overstay.”

ADIS is a person-centric system that matches nonimmigrant biographic information (such as name and date of birth) with entry and exit information to determine whether nonimmigrants departed the country according to their terms of admission.

ADIS stores and uses biographics, biometric indicator, and encounter data on aliens who have applied for entry, entered, or departed the United States, CBP explained in it budget justification. ADIS is primarily funded out of CBP’s Office of Field Operations (OFO) Assets and Support Programs, Projects, and Activities (PPA). OFO is CBP’s law enforcement component responsible for carrying out CBP’s “complex and demanding border security mission at all Ports of Entry.” Funds in this PPA support the staffing and management of the ADIS program office.

CBP matches entry, exit, and change of status information primarily using biographic data, which is supplemented with biometric data. GAO reported to Congress in February 2017 that “DHS had made progress developing a biometric exit capability to collect biometric data, such as fingerprints, from individuals exiting the United States,” but that it “found CBP had tested biometric exit capabilities [and] that challenges remained,” noting that, “Pilots [are] underway to collect biometric and biographic information for nonimmigrants departing the United States at land ports of entry …”

Currently, CBP relies on third-party departure data, such as the passenger manifests for commercial carriers “to confirm an individual’s exit from the country.”

In addition, CBP receives commercial passenger and crew biographical data directly from air and sea carriers through the Advance Passenger Information System (APIS) prior to the passenger and crew’s arrival in or departure from the United States.

Carriers are required to provide specific biographic data, including name and passport number — and carriers are subject to fines for missing or inaccurate data.

GAO said “APIS then shares the data with ADIS, which works as a central repository and is specifically designed to determine who has complied with the terms of admission and who has overstayed … In addition to arrival and departure information, ADIS receives other DHS data from ICE and USCIS relevant to whether a person is lawfully present in the United States.

The primary DHS databases used for determining suspected overstays are supposed to disclose extensions, changes, or adjustments of status are necessary … to determine whether a person is an overstay who remained beyond the authorized period of admission,” GAO revealed, saying, “for example, a person traveling to the United States for business or pleasure may be admitted by CBP for a 6 month authorized period of stay, and then the individual may subsequently apply for and receive from USCIS an extension of up to 6 months.”

Yet, there seem to be associative problems with all of these databases limiting DHS’s ability to accurately know who many – and who – are actual overstays. The lingering problem that DHS has had is in developing and deploying acceptable technology to collect biographic and biometric data on travelers arriving and departing the United States at land ports in order to “develop a more comprehensive overstay estimate.”

GAO’s Review of the Fiscal Year 2017 Entry/Exit Overstay Report from CBP found “the collection of departure information in the land environment is more difficult than in the air and sea environments [because of] major physical, logistical, and operational obstacles involved with electronically collecting an individual’s biographic, and biometric data.”

GAO disclosed that, “When DHS uses data collected at land ports of entry, it is primarily to match records of certain travelers arriving into the United States by air and sea to records of those who may have subsequently departed by land to Canada.

President Trump’s just released Fiscal Year 2019 Congressional Budget Justification should help CBP and other DHS components better and more quickly implement CBP’s comprehensive Entry/Exit Strategy, which would provide more resources to get a workable system up and running – and to provide accurate data on overstays – down to the specific person, which counterterrorism – and even counterintelligence – authorities told Biometric Update on background “is an absolute must have,” as one put it.

CBP said in its new budget justification that it “is accelerating the deployment of a biometric exit system in the air environment building upon existing operational platforms and using proven biometric technologies. This effort is funded primarily through user fees collected by companies sponsoring H1B and L1 visas. A small amount of appropriated Operations & Support (O&S) funding is provided for staffing and support costs for former USVISIT personnel.”

The President’s budget would provide $527 million more for O&S over the nearly $11.1 billion in FY 2017.

CBP said, “O&S appropriation funds all appropriated operating costs required to achieve CBP’s mission. The primary drivers behind these costs are the salaries and benefits of CBP operational and mission support personnel. The balance of this appropriation is comprised of the operations and maintenance (O&M) costs necessary to sustain the daily effectiveness of CBP equipment and facilities.”

O&S also funds necessary operations, mission support, and associated management and administration (M&A) costs in support of the following PPAs:

• Mission Support: Provides enterprise leadership, management, and business administrative services that sustain the day-to-day back office operations. Key capabilities include managing the agency’s performance, finances, workforce, physical and personnel security, acquisition of goods and services, information technology, property and assets, communications, legal affairs, and administration.

• Border Security Operations: Secures America’s southern, northern, and certain coastal borders. Through the coordinated use of operational capabilities and assets of the Border Patrol and Air and Marine Operations (AMO), CBP “prevents terrorists and terrorist weapons, illegal aliens, smugglers, narcotics, and other contraband from moving across the US borders.”

• Trade and Travel Operations: Allows DHS “to better intercept potential threats at US ports of entry (POEs) before they can cause harm while expediting legal trade and travel. The program includes a multi-layered system of people, technology, intelligence, risk information, targeting, international cooperation, and expanded shipper and traveler vetting that provides greater flexibility and capacity to accomplish these functions prior to arrival at the US border.

• Integrated Operations: Supports multiple mission programs through the sustainment of command and control, coordination, information sharing, and situational awareness. Also supports occupational health and safety.

The FY 2019 budget includes an increase of $10.2 million to replace infrastructure equipment nearing or past the end of its useful life.

CBP said “field information technology equipment is antiquated, and currently more than 40,000 of the approximate 60,000 end-user workstations are not capable of being upgraded to Windows 10, which is the minimum required to run the cyber monitoring tools that need to be deployed to support the agency-wide adoption of the Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation program.”

CBP also justified the increase explaining that it “supports the upgrade and replacement for a portion of CBP’s aged infrastructure that has reached the end of its lifecycle. With support included in the FY 2018 President’s Budget, CBP is proceeding with a refresh strategy of its antiquated field IT equipment. The lack of consistent funding for technology refresh remains CBP’s most significant cyber security deficiency. Systems running on significantly outdated and unsupported technologies present significant risk to CBP’s IT systems and data. Technology refresh is critical to protect CBP from security vulnerabilities through on-going updated patching, and will ensure the network is resilient enough to avoid frequent failure rates typically experienced by aged infrastructure. These funds are necessary to replace workstations/notebooks, network switches, network optimizers and network firewalls that currently create cybersecurity vulnerabilities.”

The Biometric Exit Account Exit User fee is one of the programs that’s funded by user fees supporting domestic trade and travel. It was authorized by the FY 2016 DHS Appropriations Act which authorized up to $1 billion over 10 years, dependent on actual fee collections, for the implementation of a biometric entry and exit program. DHS began collecting fee funds via the 9/11 Response and Biometric Exit Account in the second fiscal quarter of 2016, resulting in a total collection of $78.4 million for FY 2016 and $62.3 million in FY 2017.

The proposed account budget request remains at $71 million; the same as the unappropriated FY 2018 budget.

CBP’s Assets and Support (A&S) funding has been raised by $38 million over the last budget of $708 million.

A&S funds support Border Patrol Enforcement Systems, which includes eight information technology systems, services, and equipment that detect, deter, identify, classify, and resolve illegal border activity, such as the Intelligent Computer Assisted Detected (ICAD) system that supports real-time border surveillance. It also includes CBP’s ENFORCE Version 3 (E3) system that “captures all enforcement actions by CBP including Biometrics, processing, and prosecutions, and the Enterprise Geospatial Information System (eGIS), which, among other things, displays national spatial views from multiple data sources including CBP’s E3, ICAD, and TECS.

It also funds the Integrated Fixed Towers (IFT) program that recently was tested and fielded pursuant to limiting legislation. IFT is a network of fixed towers equipped with surveillance cameras, radar, and laser sensors that relay real-time information (radar and video) to Border Patrol agents at a command center. And, the Remote Video Surveillance System.

CBP’s Procurement, Construction, and Improvements (PC&I) appropriation provides funds necessary for the planning, operational development, engineering, and purchase of one or more assets, including the agency’s Trade and Travel Assets and Infrastructure program that funds technology and assets “needed to conduct the trade and travel mission, which includes integrated screening, scanning, biometric, and transaction processing systems to enhance the interception of potential threats before they can cause harm while expediting legal trade and travel.”

President Trump’s budget raises PC&I’s funding by $222 million over the FY 2017 enacted budget of $771 million, for a total request of $1.8 billion.

CBP’s initial focus is to deploy biometric exit capability in the air environment. CBP said “In line with [its] vision for biometric exit, [it] will work in partnership with the air travel industry in the implementation of the biometric exit program.” CBP said it will also “build a device-agnostic back-end system and infrastructure that will allow for private-sector investment in front-end infrastructure, such as biometrically enabled self-service baggage kiosks, facial recognition self-boarding gates, and other biometrically enabled services.”

Implementation of the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) program “enabled greater security of US borders and allows the US to receive updated traveler information for Visa Waiver Program travelers coming from 38 countries participating in the program,” CBP explained in its budget justification, noting that, “The program is in its operation and maintenance phase since becoming mandatory in 2009. As of March 13, 2017, ESTA has received over 110 million applications, with a continuing compliance rate of over 99 percent. Fees paid by ESTA applicants fully support costs associated with the program.”

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