Criticism For DHS Fingerprinting Effort
A House Democrat has criticized the Department of Homeland Security for not working aggressively enough to gather fingerprints of foreigners as they leave the country.
Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, questioned whether the department will meet its goal of having a system in place by yearend to collect the fingerprints. He said the department has not requested any money for the system for fiscal 2008.
“The department is not taking this effort seriously and is not following Congress’s direction,” Thompson said in an interview with the Washington Post. “If they are in fact trying to implement a new system, you would expect the resources to be requested to make that implementation successful.”
Department spokeswoman Anna Hinken says officials have been working hard to get the system running at airports and seaports. “We are on schedule,” she told the Washington Post, noting that the department plans to lay out its plans in several months.
The fingerprinting measure is part of the government’s US-VISIT program, which has been collecting biometric information from visiting foreigners for several years.
The information is intended to help authorities determine who may have illegally overstayed their visas. Four of the Sept. 11 hijackers did so, as have as many as 6 million immigrants, according to a report by Thompson’s staff.
So far, Homeland security officials have been scanning fingerprints of foreigners entering the country at 115 airports, 15 seaports and 154 out of 170 border crossings, according to the Washington Post.
Collecting fingerprints at exit points has been more difficult. In December, the department backed off plans to develop a system to track foreign visitors departing from land borders, saying it was too complicated and costly.
The department has spent about $250 million on the exit portion of the program since 2003, according to a Government Accountability Report released at a House hearing. It has spent more than $1.3 billion on the entire program in that time, records show.
The GAO report, which raises questions about the department’s management of the program, concluded that the “prospects for successfully delivering an operational exit solution are as uncertain today as they were 4 years ago.”
The initiative has also been criticized by airlines, which are concerned that their employees will have to collect the fingerprints of foreigners at check-in counters before they leave the country.
The airlines have worked to get more people to check in at kiosks and online to reduce costs.
Thompson sided with the carriers, saying he did not think the government should “place that burden of responsibility on the airlines.”