On April 25, 2012, then Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Janet Napolitano, told the Senate Judiciary Committee in an oversight hearing that the long-awaited and overdue biometric exit system to track whether aliens leave the country on the expiration of their visa would be delayed for at least another four years. Even then, she said, the Department would only be able to consider deployment of the biometric system if the plan developed should be determined to be cost effective. Only the month before, on March 6, 2012, DHS Principal Deputy Coordinator for Counterterrorism John Cohen had testified before Congress that a finalized plan for the implementation of a biometric exit system would be presented within weeks. Secretary Napolitano’s comments not two months later made a mockery of that deadline.
Insisting that a biometric system was too costly to immediately implement, Secretary Napolitano instead claimed that the Administration would have an “enhanced biographic” system ready by June and that the Office of Management and Budget was currently reviewing the final plan, though she did not at any point ask for more resources to implement a biometric system. Yet, a biometric, not merely biographic, system has been mandated by law since 2002, when Congress passed the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act.
Two years later, DHS is no closer to implementing a biometric entry exit system, as has now been mandated by law for twelve years, even as studies show they would be more feasible and cost effective than ever. Meanwhile, the lack of such a system continues to prevent DHS from having any idea who is in the country. Last July, for instance, a Government Accountability Office audit showed that DHS had lost track of a million people who came to the U.S. but whose present location they cannot determine.
Unfortunately, though not surprisingly, Janet Napolitano’s replacement as Homeland Security Secretary, Jeh Johnson, seems to see the government’s inability to track entering aliens as an opportunity, not a problem. While he seems to be aware that having no idea who is currently in the country or where they are is a homeland security threat, he uses the existence of that threat as excuse for a mass amnesty. Someone should tell Secretary Johnson that “bringing people out of the shadows” will not increase homeland security. If DHS really cares about keeping Americans safe, it should obey the law and finally implement the biometric exit system required by law.