Napolitano Says Value of Exit Tracking System Is "Dubious"

By Jessica M. Vaughan on December 9, 2009

In an oversight hearing this morning before the Senate Judiciary Committee, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano answered questions on a wide range of issues, including the collapse of worksite enforcement, the lack of funding for detention space, and interior checkpoints. Most of her answers were predictable and confirmed the administration's focus on arresting and removing only those illegal aliens who have committed serious crimes, and making sure employers complete the proper paperwork in hiring. Napolitano also revealed that she is skeptical of the value of expanding US-VISIT, the biometric entry screening system, to also track visitor departures.

California Senator Dianne Feinstein, who has for years dogged the agency over the issue of visa overstays, who are estimated to comprise 40 percent of the illegal alien population, and has cautioned against too-rapid expansion of the visa waiver program in the absence of any information about who overstays (see my previous testimony before Feinstein's subcommittee), asked Napolitano when the agency would come up with a system to track exits. The secretary first made the baffling claim that the ESTA system, an automated pre-flight background check required of visa waiver travelers, would somehow help track overstays. Then, she tried to reassure the senator that the Secure Communities interoperability program, which identifies criminal aliens as they are booked in jails, was identifying many overstayers. Finally, when pressed by Feinstein, Napolitano said that she needed to "caution against the notion that we should build a massive biometric exit system around the country," because such a system would provide "dubious value added." She said that there are "better ways" to find overstayers. Lawmakers should insist that the agency tell us more about these better ways, and even more important, implement them without further delay.