Critics say US-VISIT program falls short of promise

Published 7 November 2005

It is not as if the US-VISIT program — which the 9/11 Commissions described as “essential” for U.S. security and which former DHS secretary Tom Ridge called “the greatest single advance in border security in three decades” — has not made modest steps forward: Today US-VIST kiosks are deployed at 115 airports, 50 land border crossings, and 14 seaports. Travelers coming through these ports submit two digital fingerprints and a photograph at the kiosks, and DHS agents check the biometric data against terrorist watch lists and criminal records. The original idea was eventually to track every foreign visitor entering and leaving the United States, and there was also a time-table: To do so within the next five years. By the end of this year US-VISIT will deploy at the remaining 104 land borders, thus meeting the

deadline set for it.

Critics maintain that the mammoth program - it will cost about $14 billion to implement in full - is not moving fast enough and that, in any event, it falls far short of the kind of comprehensive border control program the 9/11 Commission had in mind. For example, the system does not yet track foreign travelers who leave the United States, even though visa overstays account for about one-half of all illegal immigrants in the United States. Even more importantly, the system records only a fraction of foreign arrivals. The

main reason for that is that the system applies to only about 22 percent of foreign visitors. Most Canadians and Mexicans are exempt, as are people who possess diplomatic visas. The GAO has issued several critical reports of DHS and Accenture - the main contractor for US-VISIT -for mismanagement and inefficiencies.