Friday, June 29, 2007

Security vs. Trade

The immigration debate has focused a tremendous amount of attention on land borders, walls, and to a lesser degree, workplace enforcement. Few spend much time on the source of half of all illegal immigration: visa overstays. Considering that the 9/11 hijackers all entered the US legally, visa overstays warrant much more scrutiny.

In that context, Congress is looking more closely at the US Visit program, and plans for tracking which immigrants leave the US as required by the terms of their visas, and which do not:

James May, president and chief executive officer of the Air Transport Association, said requiring scans at airline check-in would reverse current efforts to streamline the process. He said that 30 percent of passengers currently check in online through their computers, cell phones or PDAs. Those passengers would not be able to do that if they had to undergo biometric scanning at the ticket counter.

May said his biggest concern was that the airlines had not been consulted before DHS announced its intention to make the biometric exit scan part of airline check-in. But he praised DHS for its collaboration with airlines during the implementation of the entry portion of US VISIT, and said he was surprised by the sudden change.

Airports may also feel a strain as the exit portion of the program is implemented.

"Airports are not designed to handle passenger departure controls," said Ana Sotorrio, associate director of governmental affairs for the Miami-Dade Aviation Department. "Passengers are already experiencing record delays and inconveniences."

Until very recently, the technology hasn't existed to even consider tracking departures. But now that it does exist, we need to make sure that it's implemented in the most efficient and minimally intrusive way possible.

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