By Shaun Waterman-The Washington Times
The Department of Homeland Security is not expected to implement a congressionally mandated program that would confirm the departure of foreign visitors from the United States through electronic fingerprint scans â€” a so-called biometric exit system.
Two department officials, who asked not to be named because the matter involves internal deliberations, told The Washington Times that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano will discuss options about the system at a special meeting Wednesday. But the officials said Ms. Napolitano is strongly leaning toward an exit-control system based on gathering the names of departing foreigners, rather than their fingerprints â€” an option known as a biographical solution.
Abandoning plans for biometric exit would require Congress to reverse repeated legislative mandates for such a system, designed by lawmakers to solve one of the thorniest problems in immigration control and enforcement: knowing whether foreign visitors are leaving the country when they should.
Those who remain after their visas expire represent as much as 40 percent of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States, and many lawmakers see exit controls as an essential component of any effort to restore integrity to the troubled immigration system.
But planning for an exit system has stalled under successive administrations as officials have grappled with the logistical challenges involved. There has been widespread concern about the cost and the impact on the country’s already congested airports and border crossings.
Now, Homeland Security officials say they can confirm a foreigner’s departure, at least at airports, by using passenger manifests provided by the airlines and the paper documents returned to immigration authorities.
There is no comprehensive departure control at U.S. land border crossings, and no real planning for any â€” although Homeland Security is piloting a biometric exit system for certain classes of temporary agricultural worker visa holders at two southern border crossing points this year.
In 2008, the Bush administration proposed regulations that would have made it the job of the airlines to collect departing passengers’ fingerprints, but the plan stalled amid determined opposition from the industry and multibillion-dollar estimates of the price tag.
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