Biometric scans part of border security bill targeting visa overstays


WASHINGTON (KXAN) — A large number of people who are in America illegally actually came here legally, they just overstayed their welcome.

One of the measures in the Border Security for America Act by Congressman Michael McCaul, R-Austin, hopes to crack down on people who overstay their visa. The House Homeland Security Committee brought the bill up Wednesday to “mark it up” and passed it to the full House 18 to 12 on a party line vote.

McCaul hopes to get it to the House by implementing the biometric entry-exit system. The system scans fingerprints and other biometric information to keep track of when someone enters the country and then leaves. Matching that with the length of their visa would allow border agents to know the identity and supposed location of someone who overstays the legally allotted time.

“[This is] something the 9/11 Commission recommended many years ago that was never fulfilled,” McCaul said in the Wednesday committee hearing.

Five billion dollars would be earmarked in the bill to upgrade ports of entry in the U.S., which would include the entry-exit system. The other $10 billion in the bill would be tactical infrastructure including the controversial border wall and supporting employees.

According to the Center for Migration Studies, nearly half of the people living illegally in the U.S. overstayed their visa. In Texas, it’s estimated 475,000 people came to the state legally and then didn’t leave.

Types of visas
  • Tourism & Visit
  • Business
  • Employment
  • Study & Exchange
  • Immigrate

The Border Security for America Act would require the biometric system to be up and running at the 15 busiest airports, seaports and land ports, in two years according to the bill. Those include the airports of Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston; the seaports of Texas City, Corpus Christi, Beaumont and Houston; and the land ports of Laredo, Hidalgo, El Paso and Brownsville. In five years it would be required at all land and sea ports of entry.

The proposed law would not require a U.S. or Canadian citizen to go through the system and would allow someone to leave on a passenger ship without a fingerprint scan.

“I think it’s certainly reasonable for our nation to be paying attention to who’s coming and going,” said Austin immigration attorney Kate Lincoln-Goldfinch. She says most people linger illegally because they get married to a citizen or are in the process of becoming a permanent resident. However, she worries McCaul’s proposal could clog up airports and lead to less tourism because people would pick other hassle-free destinations.

“The thought of increasing the delay or the processing time for people who don’t have a criminal history, they’re coming here to visit Disney World and spend a lot of money in our economy,” said Lincoln-Goldfinch.

According to the Pew Research Center, the country with the most visa overstays is Canada. Followed by Mexico, Brazil, Germany and Italy.

After the bill passed committee, McCaul told KXAN in a statement, “the Committee passed legislation that will protect our homeland by strengthening the security of our borders. This is a 21st century, multi-layered approach, which authorizes $10 billion for the construction of a border wall, $5 billion for the modernization of our ports of entry, provides other tactical infrastructure and cutting-edge technology, puts more boots on the ground, and better empowers the Department of Homeland Security’s Secretary to take other necessary actions to secure the border.”

He’s confident, with President Trump in the White House, an overhaul of border security policy is possible.

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