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AILA Enumerates Concerns with the New ‘U.S. VISIT’ Entry-Exit System

Cite as "AILA InfoNet Doc. No. 03052240 (posted May. 22, 2003)"

American Immigration Lawyers Association

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE    

Contact: Judith Golub
jgolub@aila.org
(202) 216-2403

May 21, 2003

U.S. VISIT:  We Need to Learn from Our Mistakes

Washington, DC- A May 19 announcement by Asa Hutchinson, Under Secretary of the Border and Transportation Directorate of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), highlights new details about the United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology program (U.S. VISIT), the new automated entry/exit system which will be implemented at our nation’s borders.  The overall plan of U.S. VISIT calls for the collection of personal data, photos, fingerprints at U.S. consular offices abroad, as well as broad database and information sharing.  “Having complete and correct information will make the difference between having a workable secure system or a discredited inefficient one.  The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) encourages DHS to make this objective a top priority,” said Jeanne Butterfield, Executive Director of AILA.

However, AILA is deeply concerned about U.S. VISIT’s implementation.  “We need to learn from our mistakes, said Butterfield. “In the past, Congress gave the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) difficult mandates, inadequate funding, and insufficient time to get the job done.  On its part, the INS developed programs that did not take into account the realities of the problems they were facing. Such deficiencies are evident here, given both Congressional actions and the implementation plan that DHS has developed,” continued Butterfield. 

What are these concerns? “AILA believes that the timeframe Congress has set for the establishment of US VISIT is overly ambitious and is likely to result in a deeply flawed system,” said Butterfield.  Congress has mandated three deadlines which the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) must meet:  By the end of 2003, DHS must install U.S. VISIT at America’s airports and seaports.  By December 30, 2004, U.S. VISIT must be installed at the top 50 high traffic land border ports, and by December 31, 2005 all other ports of entry must be operational. 

While having a program in place is desirable, having a functional and reliable program is necessary. “There are bound to be serious errors that could affect innocent visitors to the United States,” continued Butterfield.  For example, if a non-immigrant visitor to the United States needs to remain past the period of his or her visa, applies for an extension, that extension will be recorded in another database separate from the U.S. VISIT system.  It is improbable that data from this separate system will be integrated into U.S. VISIT by the time it is deployed.  Thus, this visitor might be detained for an overstay of a visa when in reality, he or she had maintained his or her visa status.

AILA also is concerned about how the biometric data is being collected.  Taking fingerprints and photos at the port of entry will triple or quadruple the interview time that is currently in place at ports of entry, resulting in serious delays in DHS’ ability to clear incoming flights. “Such delays would undermine the entire effort to maintain an efficient border, and efficiency is a vital component in increasing security. Issues concerning the accuracy of the data in the database raise some flags as well,” continued Butterfield.

Finally, AILA is concerned about the low level of funding, with $380 million being appropriated in FY 03.   “Such a low level of funding,” noted Butterfield, “is grossly inadequate to even begin to create an effective entry-exit system.  Our government needs to commit sufficient resources so that we are able to enhance our security while allowing for the continued flow of people that is essential to our economic well-being.”

“Congress and the Administration have taken many steps to reform our immigration function,” continued Butterfield.  Immigration is now part of the Department of Homeland Security, and much attention is being paid to re-vamp our enforcement and security.  AILA believes that we also need to take steps to ensure that our immigration laws make sense.
“It is common knowledge that our immigration system is out of whack with reality,” said Butterfield. “No one is satisfied with the status quo:  It does not measure up to our security needs, our economic needs, or our need to reunite close family members. It’s time to reform our immigration laws to facilitate the flow of people and allow our government to focus on those who mean to do us harm, not those who are filling our labor market needs or reuniting with their families,” said Butterfield.  “Immigration reform is a vital component of enhancing our national security.  Such reform involves legalizing hard-working immigrants, creating legal avenues for reuniting families and bringing in workers so American business have the workers needed to grow and prosper.   Such reforms make sense for our nation, our economy, and our security.”

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Founded in 1946, AILA is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that provides its Members with continuing legal education, information, and professional services. AILA advocates before Congress and the Administration and provides liaison with the INS and other government agencies. AILA is an Affiliated Organization of the American Bar Association.

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