DHS finalizes plan for biometric exit

House Judiciary hearing turns contentious
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The Homeland Security Department finalized in May a plan for instituting a biometric exit system from the United States, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told a congressional panel.

During a July 19 hearing of the House Judiciary Committee, Napolitano said the department submitted a plan to Congress in May detailing how the biometric exit system could be rolled out.

The United States has had in place a number of years a system known as US-VISIT to electronically capture the fingerprints and photographs of incoming foreign travelers, but hasn't set up a counterpart system to record the biometric data of departing travelers. Homeland Security officials have cited the cost and complexity of setting up a biometric exit system as obstacles, but Napolitano earlier this year told another congressional panel that one could be deployed within the next 4 years.

One of the first steps will be an "enhanced biographic" capability. That initially could work by matching incoming US-VISIT data with incoming entry data from other countries. The United States and Canada plan to institute such a capability at land borders, Napolitano said.

"So, even if we don't have a lane or an ability to mark our exit data at the land border, we will take their entry data and put it in our system," Napolitano told the committee.

Napolitano also fielded questions about maritime cargo screening. The department has taken "a good faith effort to comply with the law" mandating 100 percent screening of maritime cargo, Napolitano said, but DHS has said that screening every single container would be cost-prohibitive and not cost-effective.

The hearing at times grew contentious, with Republican congressmen pressing the secretary on a policy announced by Napolitano and President Obama June 15 to defer the deportation of some illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children.

"We are well seated in the law," Napolitano said in response to a question from Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.). The policy is for Immigration and Customs Enforcement to exercise prosecutorial discretion on a case-by-case basis, Napolitano said.

"Could [Obama] have waved a magic wand and by huge category just said, everybody is home free? No. Can a prosecutor's office say on a case-by-case basis, we're going to defer action? Yes," she said.

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) at one point also stated that "this administration seems to have a hard time recognizing members of terrorist groups who are allowed into the White House" a likely reference to allegations by Gohmert and other Republican members, including Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), that a State Department aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.

"The evidence speaks for itself. Obviously you're kept in the dark in a lot of these things," Gohmert told Napolitano.

"This committee has a long and proud tradition. These kinds of insinuations demean the committee," Napolitano said a few minutes later. Gohmert's allegations have also been condemned by Republicans, including Bachmann's former presidential campaign chief Ed Rollins, who compared the accusations to McCarthyism, and Sen. John McCain, who called them "nothing less than an unwarranted and unfounded attack on an honorable citizen, a dedicated American, and a loyal public servant."

For more:
- go to the hearing webpage

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