The Trump administration executive order on immigration has most widely been reported to temporarily ban visas for people from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — even for those who have been living in the U.S. in valid employment or student status but who need new visas for re-entry.
What’s getting less attention is section 7 of the order that demands immigration controls when you leave the U.S. not just when you arrive.
- In most countries you go through immigration not just when you arrive, but when you leave too.
- In the US there are no ‘exit controls.’ When you go to the airport you get off a connecting flight and right onto your international flight, no more security and no immigration. Domestic and international flights leave from the same terminal.
- The US already gets advance passenger manifests, they know who is leaving. This adds physical checks of each individual passenger on the way out.
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Here’s the text of section 7 of this executive order:
Sec. 7. Expedited Completion of the Biometric Entry-Exit Tracking System. (a) The Secretary of Homeland Security shall expedite the completion and implementation of a biometric entry-exit tracking system for all travelers to the United States, as recommended by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.
(b) The Secretary of Homeland Security shall submit to the President periodic reports on the progress of the directive contained in subsection (a) of this section. The initial report shall be submitted within 100 days of the date of this order, a second report shall be submitted within 200 days of the date of this order, and a third report shall be submitted within 365 days of the date of this order. Further, the Secretary shall submit a report every 180 days thereafter until the system is fully deployed and operational.
Trump can insist on this by executive order because the law already allows for it and has for 21 years. It hasn’t happened largely because of how expensive and impractical it is.
Most cost estimates (suggesting under a billion dollars) involve the acquisition of biometric scanners and additional federal staffing, but not the physical renovation of every international airport that would be necessary.
Right now there’s no structural channel that travelers are forced to go through. Passengers would have to be forcibly routed through departure immigration. There would have to be a physical separation between domestic and international flights.
One way to do this would be to require what are effectively separate domestic and international piers, in some cases passengers might have to depart security and re-enter the airport. In other cases there might be an immigration transfer check between piers. So there’s construction costs and staffing costs, and it would increase the hassle and time necessary at the airport including increasing minimum connection times between flights — a tax on airlines.
The Obama administration was working on a similar plan. I reported on immigration exit control tests two years ago, with a goal of implementing nationwide in airports by 2020. The tests explicitly recongized the huge costs involved — other countries designed their airports with such a system in mind, here everything would need to be retrofit — so one experiment involves staff with mobile biometric scanners. They’ve worked on facial recognition to compare people to their passports (beyond just eyeballing photos). And they’ve also recognized priority for Global Entry passengers.