New Executive Order Demands Immigration Checks When You Leave the US, Not Just When You Arrive

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.

Copyright: prestonia / 123RF Stock Photo

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.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Totally unnecessary and another waste of gov’t spending. Trump needs to learn how to spend less, not more. ($54 billion more for military?) Plus cutting income taxes?

    How do you spend more while cutting your income?

  2. I came across this today, September 8, 2017, returning to Canada from Ogdensburg, New York after a two hour visit to shop and have lunch.
    No explanation was forthcoming when I asked what the deal was on exit controls.
    I worked in Immigration in Canada for most of my career in government and never thought I would see such a thing in a free country.
    My wife and I had to say where we had come from, how long we had been there, what our relationship was and then were told that in future we may see more of these screenings.
    Not good.

  3. Are there exit controls, conducted by US when you are crossing by foot , across Peace bridge, to Canada?

  4. Does the US State Department or Border patrol know when a US citizen departs the USA on an international flight? I remember showing my US passport at check in along with my airline ticket, but can’t recall going through any border immigration exit check unless the check in girl did it or the airline and they report back to border patrol or the state dept? Does anybody know?

  5. But what’s the reason for this? You are leaving the country, why do they care?

    Can someone give a reason, please

  6. Kathy broughton – Yes, the check-in staff pass the details to the immigration department, irrespective of citizenship, so they have proof of boarding This is typical, both in the USA, and all other countries. Note that the check-in staff or TSA staff are not permitted to ask you questions pertaining to whether you have complied with your conditions of admission to the USA (if you are a foreigner), and nor are they permitted to detain you for immigration-related offenses. What is different in Asia, Africa, Latin America, Australia/NZ, and mainland continental Europe is that as well as all this, there is an ADDITIONAL stage that you have to go through after passing TSA hand luggage security. You have to go through a formal ‘Police Control’ where you show your passport, and if everything is ok then you get a (routine) departure stamp. It is this stage where you can either be given a ban on future entry to the country, or even worse be pulled over and detained for both immigration and non-immigration related offenses (UAE, Turkey, and Thailand are notorious for this!!!). So far the USA has not applied this system of enforcement, but it appears that Trump is trying to use this as a further excuse to ‘get tough’ on visitors to the USA. Is it any wonder that visitor numbers are freefalling. Oh well, lost business……..

  7. Anyone been questioned by Customs while boarding an international flight but still inside the US? what would (technically) happen if you didn’t answer their questions and just show your US passport. Is the airplane boarding gate considered “the border” where ICE can exercise additional powers?

  8. As mentioned above, in the USA Immigration and Customs do not question you on departure unless either TSA and/or boarding gate staff suspect something and choose to refer you, then by law you will be required to co-operate and answer their questions. Typically this could happen after e.g. a TSA inspection finds that you are carrying more than $10,000 USD in (undeclared) cash, then they would refer you to customs for a further grilling. For a visa overstay by more than 1 month you are unlikely to be referred (assuming that there are no additional offenses), and they are more likely to simply let you leave the country – only if you try to return then they prosecute on arrival. On the other hand, it could well be that for temporary periods the immigration department choose to have ‘sting operations’, where they check everyones passports on departure (both USA and other citizens). This could happen, say, during a sporting World Cup or other major event where they want to ban known troublemakers from leaving the country.

  9. AFAIK CBP has the same authority when departing the country as when entering it. Except that, with respect to foreign nationals, they would need stronger reasons to deny a traveler to exit compared to denying entry. CBP does conduct exit inspections for some international flights. I think they do have additional powers in this situation, as you are leaving the country. One time I had my carry-on inspected, and was told it was a random search. I don’t recall being asked any questions (other than for my passport), and I really don’t know what would have happened if I refused to answer questions (could they deny me boarding? I feel like the airline might for security reasons even if CBP didn’t have that authority). I doubt I could refuse the search after I presented my boarding pass and passport to the gate agent, even if I decided I no longer wanted to travel. I don’t believe that travelers are legally required to co-operate and answer questions, although interfering with their inspection (e.g. physically interfering with attempts to search your bags, or attempting to flee) are probably crimes.

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