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CBP biometrics reach Hidalgo Port of Entry as critics take aim at new proposed DHS border rules

Biden, new DHS Secretary urged to withdraw controversial NPRM

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has extended its face biometrics for Simplified Arrival to the international bridges of the Hidalgo/Pharr/Anzalduas Port of Entry near McAllen, Texas.

Hidalgo is one of the ten busiest ports of entry in America, according to the announcement, processing over 1.6 million pedestrians and almost 2.9 million vehicles in Fiscal 2020. It will be the third Port of Entry in the Rio Grande Valley to implement Simplified Arrival.

CBP says more than 64 million travelers have gone through its biometric facial comparison process, with more than 400 imposters prevented from entering the U.S. since September of 2018.

“The technological innovation that Simplified Arrival brings to our land border passenger processing environment at the Hidalgo/Pharr/Anzalduas Port of Entry not only facilitates the movement of lawful travelers and protects their privacy, but also enhances our nation’s security,” says Randy J. Howe, director of field operations for DHS’ Laredo Field Office. “CBP has evaluated and fine-tuned the biometric facial comparison technology we have been testing at the Southwest Border since the summer of 2018 to deliver a secure, streamlined travel experience that will also support travel recovery efforts.”

Letter to DHS Secretary and editorial call for changes

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has written Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas urging the agency to withdraw a controversial Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on collecting biometrics from non-citizens at the country’s borders, which was returned to public review last month.

The new comment period ends March 12, and is taken in the letter as an indication that the new Presidential administration plans to go ahead with the new rules, according to Bloomberg Government.

The letter argues that the move would introduce privacy risks by enabling systematic and covert tracking of individuals, and immigrants and communities of color will be disproportionately affected. Congress’ approval was for fingerprint collection, rather than face biometrics, the groups also contend. Broadening the rule to allow the collection of any biometric data also raises concerns, they state. The letter is co-signed by 23 groups, including Access Now, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the Project on Government Oversight.

House Homeland Security Chair Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) has expressed hope that DHS will amend the rule before finalizing it.

A team of lawyers and academics have called on the Biden Administration to reconsider the biometric data collection policy, referring to it as a ‘midnight regulation’ in an editorial for The Regulatory Review.

The article notes that White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain instructed all agencies to wait on implementing midnight regulations and withdraw rules yet to make it into the Federal Register.

The two clauses in the NPRM, one to expand what biometrics are collected and how they can be used and the other to put systematic DNA tests for family relationship verification to prevent child trafficking, should have been addressed separately as they are invoked under different sources of legal authority, the advocates write.

Further, the DNA test plan is missing necessary details, as children can be trafficked by family members and not being a child’s parent when crossing the border with them is not evidence of trafficking. Accreditation of testing laboratories for this process by the American Association of Blood Banks would also not be sufficient oversight, they argue, and additionally would miss any non-parent relatives.

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