FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 23, 2009
SCHUMER VOWS SENATE HEARING TO CONFRONT FAILURE TO INSTALL PROGRAM TO TRACK ENTRY, EXIT OF NON-CITIZENS
Program Was Required Under Law Passed In 1996; 9/11 Commission Also Recommended That It Be Installed
Though Billions Have Been Appropriated To Set Up Comprehensive System, Only Those Entering At Airports Are Tracked; Government Has No Fool-Proof Way To Know When a Non-Citizen Has Entered or Left The Country
In Letter to DHS Secretary Napolitano, Schumer Announces Hearing in November To Hear What Steps New Administration Is Taking
WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) announced today he would hold a Senate hearing to probe why the federal government still has not installed a program to track when non-citizens enter or leave the country, even though such a plan was recommended by the 9-11 Commission, required by Congress under a 1996 law and has been funded for years to the tune of billions of dollars. Schumer registered his concerns about the issue and announced the hearing in a letter sent today to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
“It’s been more than a decade since Congress required a comprehensive program to track who is entering and leaving the country, and still we have no such system in place,” Schumer said. “Without this program, we have no way of knowing who is coming or going at our nation’s ports of entry. This critical priority went unaddressed by the last administration, but we can’t afford to ignore it any longer.”
Congress first mandated that the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) implement an entry and exit system that would track the arrival and departure of every noncitizen in the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996. Since then, Congress has appropriated hundreds of millions per year to implement the program, but a biometric-based data system has been established only for noncitizens arriving at U.S. airports. There is no system in place for cataloguing when those same visitors leave the country through U.S. airports, nor is there any program whatsoever for monitoring either entry or exit by noncitizens at terrestrial border posts.
Between 2004 and 2008, $1.5 billion was spent on the US VISIT system. For FY2010, $352 million has been approved. But that system only tracks entrants at airports. In his letter to Napolitano today, Schumer acknowledged the gains made in tracking the entry of persons arriving at airports, but noted the vast majority of non-citizens who enter the U.S. do so by land.
“I am sure you would agree that the objective of any entry system should be to govern who may enter the United States and to determine who is present in the United States at any moment. Accordingly, it is critical that the US-VISIT system track the entry of all non-citizens who enter through our ports of entry, not just those individuals who enter through our airports,” Schumer wrote.
Schumer said he was confident the Obama administration was giving attention to this priority that went ignored by Bush-era officials. He said he would schedule a hearing for November so Homeland Security officials could testify about their plans to implement a comprehensive system for tracking the comings and goings of non-citizens at all ports of entry.
A copy of Schumer’s letter to Napolitano appears below.
September 23, 2009
Secretary Janet Napolitano
Department of Homeland Security
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Washington, DC 20528
Dear Secretary Napolitano,
As Chairman of the Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security, I am responsible for directing the Senate’s oversight of the Department of Homeland Security’s efforts to secure our borders and ports of entry. In this capacity, I first wish to commend you on the excellent new leadership you have provided the Department. Under your command, the Border Patrol has nearly doubled the mileage of our border that is under our operational control, and has achieved record lows in the numbers of illegal border crossings and apprehensions.
But even with this progress, there is still much work to be done. In 2004, the 9/11 Commission concluded that creation and implementation of a biometrics-based entry-exit system was critical to our national security. Specifically, the Commission recommended that “[t]he Department of Homeland Security, properly supported by the Congress, should complete, as quickly as possible, a biometric entry-exit screening system, including a single system for speeding qualified travelers. It should be integrated with the system that provides benefits to foreigners seeking to stay in the United States.”
Even though this important recommendation was made over five years ago, the prior administration unfortunately did not make establishment and implementation of an entry-exit system a priority. With regard to tracking the entry of non-citizens into the United States, under your leadership, we have made significant progress in tracking the entry of persons who enter America through our airports.
But, despite this progress, we still do not track the entry of the vast majority of non-citizens who enter the United States through our land ports of entry. I am sure you would agree that the objective of any entry system should be to govern who may enter the United States and to determine who is present in the United States at any moment. Accordingly, it is critical that the US-VISIT system track the entry of all non-citizens who enter through our ports of entry, not just those individuals who enter through our airports.
Just as importantly, any entry system has extremely limited value if it cannot be coupled with an exit system that tracks whether those who have entered the United States on temporary visas have exited the country as required by law.
In this regard, the Government Accountability Office has recently stated that the Department of Homeland Security “has yet to define and economically justify a comprehensive strategic solution for controlling and monitoring the exit of foreign visitors, which is critical to accomplishing the program’s goals.” We have only begun to employ pilot programs for implementing an exit system at our airports, and we do not appear to have any deadlines in place for establishing an exit system at our ports of entry.
I am certain that under your excellent leadership, plans are being developed and implemented to finally achieve the 9/11 Commission’s sage recommendations. I am eager to work with you to overcome the failures of the past and to finalize implementation of a fully functional and effective entry-exit system at our airports and our ports of entry.
The immigration subcommittee will be holding a hearing in early November where the Department can assure the American people that a concrete plan is in place to finalize implementation of the entry-exit system, and can inform Congress as to any additional resources that are needed to complete this critical project.
I thank you for your attention to this important matter, and look forward to working with you to enact any legislation necessary to assist you in your mission of protecting America.
Charles E. Schumer
Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Refugees