Cite as "AILA InfoNet Doc. No. 03052240 (posted May. 22, 2003)"
American Immigration Lawyers Association
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Judith Golub
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,”
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
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
# # #
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.
American Immigration Lawyers Association
918 F Street NW,
Washington, DC, 20009
Phone (202) 216-2400; Fax (202) 783-7853