Biometric Exit-Tracking Feasible Immediately

by Marguerite Telford –

Cost-effective system for air, sea departures would have minimal impact on foreign visitors.

WASHINGTON, DC (September 17, 2013) — The Center for Immigration Studies today released a detailed report confirming that a biometric exit-tracking system for foreign visitors departing by air or sea is feasible immediately at a reasonable cost.

There is thus no justification for putting off the implementation of such a system until after an amnesty for illegal immigrants has been completed, as is the case in S.744, the Gang of Eight bill. Instead, if Congress wishes to pursue amnesty and expansion of temporary worker programs, the full implementation of an exit-tracking system at airports and seaports must be one of several prerequisites, so as to limit the growth of a new illegal population in the future.

Tracking the arrival and departure of foreign visitors to the United States is an essential part of immigration control. The lack of effective exit-tracking has enabled 4-5 million foreign visitors to overstay their visas with impunity, accounting for perhaps 40 percent of the total illegal immigrant population. Congress has mandated an exit-tracking system in eight separate statutes since 1996; the three most recent laws require a biometric element. But the executive branch has refused to implement the system, claiming the costs are too high.

View the entire publication at:

“This report unequivocally sets aside doubts on whether a biometric tracking system is cost-effective,” states author Janice Kephart, a national security fellow at the Center and past special counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Today’s release is quite timely with the upcoming House Homeland Security Subcommittee Hearing on Fulfilling A Key 9/11 Commission Recommendation: Implementing Biometric Exit.”

It is vital that exit tracking employ biometric indicators — for instance, the travelers’ photos or fingerprints. Using only biographic information, such as names or passport numbers, provides no assurance that the person departing is the one whose original arrival was recorded.

Among the findings:

• The first-year implementation costs would range from $400 million to $600 million, even assuming significant cost overruns.

• This estimate is based on the current costs of existing devices and on a DHS assessment.

• Implementation costs could be covered by a relatively small fee increase on foreign nationals arriving by air or sea and likely does not require an appropriation.

• Such a system could be implemented with minimal impact on the 40 million foreign visitors who travel by air.

• A 2009 DHS report that studied data from two airport biometric pilot programs concluded that “Overall, the Air Exit Pilots confirmed the ability to biometrically record the exit of aliens subject to US-VISIT departing the United States by air.” Today, technologies are faster, more diverse, and cost-effective.

• 14 nations already have, or are in the process of implementing, biometric processing of foreign air travelers.

• In contrast to the rejection of biometric exit-tracking at home, the same federal government is helping install biometric border systems abroad, in Nigeria and the Philippines.

• Tracking the departure of visitors by land is a very different challenge because of completely different conditions at ports of entry.

View a new CIS series analyzing the House of Representatives bill, H.R. 2278, at:

View the Senate bill, CIS Senate testimony and commentary at:

Contact: Marguerite Telford

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