In what we hope is its last great act of lunacy, Michael Chertoff’s Department of Homeland Security has announced it will subject all non-Americans, including those who have been permanent legal residents for decades, to biometric tracking.
The tracking is part of the US-VISIT program that began in 2003. Various elements of the program have been delayed because the technology simply hasn’t existed to make them feasible. That fact hasn’t stopped other parts, and Chertoff has largely ignored concerns and protests from border officials, who surely have a better grasp of the logistics of crossing the border than he does.
Chertoff himself announced two years ago that exit tracking would not be implemented in 2007 because officials at our ports of entry said they simply couldn’t do it. His December ruling reverses that stoppage and actually expands the program to include biometric tracking of all non-U.S. citizens, including permanent legal residents.
All foreign citizens will be subject to electronic fingerprint scans every time they enter and leave the country. A “green card” holder who lives north of the border but works at a Mexican maquiladora, for example, will have to go through the process twice a day, even though he or she crosses daily and is well known to inspectors on the bridges.
A family of six could be held at the bridge for half an hour each time they cross, just so their crossings can be recorded.
Officials have said the process doesn’t take much time, estimating about five minutes per person, per crossing. That might not seem like much, but at five minutes per person only 12 will make it across the bridge in an hour. The Rio Grande Valley Partnership in South Texas reports 1.95 million bridge crossings into Mexico during the month of October, the most recent report posted on its Web site.
Under ideal conditions the process can be relatively fast, but immigration officials have said they can also take much longer than five minutes per person.
“The idea that lawful residents, immigrants who have been living in the United States for years, will be subject to fingerscans and other biometric data collection procedures when traveling to and from the United States is simply wrong and borders on the absurd,” Charles H. Kuck, president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said in a prepared statement.
Kuck noted that no assessment has been made of the cost of implementing the new policy or its effect on the operations at our ports of entry.
The original premise of US-VISIT, as it was sold to the American people, was that it would help track those who came to this country on short-term visas — visitors. Legal permanent residents aren’t visitors — in most cases they are our neighbors. Their work, taxes and other contributions to their communities has earned them better treatment than this.
Our country is not under martial law. And before George W. Bush took office it was seen throughout the world as a country that respected the rights and freedoms of all people, regardless of nationality. If Congress doesn’t scrap this newest edict from DHS when it reconvenes in January, we trust it will be one of the first acts of Chertoff’s successor, Janet Napolitano.