A key element of immigration control involves tracking the arrival and departure of foreign visitors to the United States. While the need for arrival controls is apparent, many argue that recording departures is also important as a means of determining whether travelers have left the country in accordance with the expiration of their immigration status.
In September 2013, Rep. Candice Miller (R-MI) introduced the Biometric Exit Improvement Act of 2013 (H.R. 3141). In an effort to enhance the United States’ immigration system, the bill would implement a system to track the departure of foreign nationals. Specifically, H.R. 3141 directs the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to establish a biometric exit data system in airports and seaports and to conduct a pilot biometric exit program in land ports of entry.
While Congress has repeatedly mandated an exit-tracking system since 1996, with increasing requirements for biometric technology, these laws have not been implemented on the basis that the costs of such a system would be prohibitive. As a consequence, several million foreign visitors have overstayed their visas and this represents a significant percentage of the total population of undocumented immigrants.
Proponents of the bill argue that an exit-tracking system could enhance security and potentially prevent overstays by providing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement with reliable information about foreign nationals who remain in the country beyond the terms of their immigration status. According to Rep. Miller, the bill “would allow the Department of Homeland Security to understand in real-time when a foreign national has left the country, and allow the Department to focus its limited resources on visa overstays, and potential national security risks, who remain in the United States.” She stated further that the legislation “puts the country on the path to finally fulfilling a key recommendation of the 9/11 Commission, and in the process, strengthening border security.”
Others insist that the bill is flawed in its approach and advocates for a costly policy that does not strengthen national security since DHS does not have the resources to investigate or take action against those who overstay their visas. Without the ability to act on visa overstays, opponents of the system argue that a biometric exit-tracking system would amount to nothing more than a costly exercise in data collection.