NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

High-Tech Entry-Exit System Could Catch Foreigners Who Overstay Visas

October 24, 2001

In 1996, Congress directed the Immigration and Naturalization Service to develop a complete entry-exit tracking system that would record every time a foreigner came into the U.S. and when he or she left.

What progress toward that goal has been made -- or not made -- since then?

  • The INS has used or tested a variety of high-tech identification systems -- voice-recognition software, remote video inspection systems and a hand-geometry reader that quickly maps and verifies the size and shape of a subject's hand.
  • But for now, those systems are used in only a smattering of border-crossing stations -- because installing them at every border crossing and linking them to a central database would be a huge undertaking.
  • Whatever the method used to track a visitor crossing the border, systems would probably create long lines at borders, the need for more bridges, more roads, more lanes at crossing points -- and the danger of economic disruptions in such cities as Detroit, which depends on Canadians coming in to spend money.
  • Then, too, how would the INS -- which has demonstrated limited ability to track down the few overstayers it knows about now -- track down the estimated two million overstays an improved system would reveal?

To meet these challenges, some experts suggest that the government take a close look at the private sector. Specifically, Wal-Mart has a system to track every single product or item it sells at its 2,677 stores and 486 Sam's Clubs. If it can do that, why can't the INS track a Saudi or Pakistani tourist?

Source: Chris Adams, "Back on Front Burner: Push to Identify Foreigners Who Overstay Visas," Wall Street Journal, October 24, 2001.

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