A system to track foreign visitors as they enter and leave the country, which Congress ordered to be running by year’s end, is far from ready, the Denver Post reports. The Department of Homeland Security vows that the deadline will be met, but critics accuse the government of rushing to implement new controls, warning that a poorly designed system could clog airports, cost millions and hurt security.
Government agents would photograph and fingerprint the estimated 28 million foreign visitors who enter the country each year, cross-checking their identities against terrorist watch lists. For the first time, government inspectors would check out visitors when they leave. With five months to go, Homeland Security officials have made no decision on how they’d register departures – let alone set up possible exit booths. Training of security agents in new procedures such as fingerprinting has not been completed.
Requests for new information technology are scheduled to go out in November. Officials will rely on existing technology to meet this year’s deadline, even though photo and fingerprint workloads are expected to increase radically.
Critics say delays in ports of entry are the problem. Leaders of the Travel Industry Association of America, representing the $525 billion travel industry, are seeking a delay in implementing the system. “The State Department and the Department of Homeland Security have unrealistic expectations about how quickly this biometric (photo and fingerprint) screening can be done,” said industry official Meredith Martino said. “It’s not the concept of this system that we have a problem with. We worry that the administration is rushing to make announcements that are relevant to national security and homeland security without having fully thought out the best way to implement these ideas and the resources necessary.”