CBP is Deploying New Technology and “Extreme Vetting” for International Travelers and Immigrants
Over the last few months, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has rolled out several new technology based initiatives and interrogation strategies to further secure the border and prevent individuals from overstaying their visas. International travelers and even permanent residents need to be aware of these changes so that their entry into the United States can go smoothly.
New I-94 Website for Visa Waiver Travelers
CBP has recently unveiled a new feature on its I-94 website that will remind travelers who enter via the Visa Waiver Program when their last possible departure date is.Using the website, travelers will be able to check how much longer they are allowed to stay in the United States. CBP expects to roll the program out to other nonimmigrant visa holders in the future.
Visitors entering the United States need to be aware of their I-94 form because it provides evidence of a visitor’s lawful admission into the United States. This is necessary for verifying alien registration, immigration status, and employment authorization.
Facial Recognition Upon U.S. Exit
CBP has begun a trial deployment of facial recognition biometric exit technology at two U.S. airports, Washington Dulles International and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, with plans to continue the rollout to other airports this summer. To build the facial recognition database, CBP uses the flight manifest to generate a photo gallery of all the travelers from travel document photographs provided to the airline.
Before a traveler boards a flight to leave the United States, he will have a live photo taken of him which is then compared to the photo gallery to ensure that the traveler is the same individual as on the travel document.
Visitors from other countries face new procedures by custom officials that will potentially force travelers to reveal much more personal information than before. The “extreme vetting” practices mean border officials could request the following information from travelers:
- Cell phone contacts;
- Social media passwords;
- Address and work history;
- Financial data; and
Generally, these practices signal a more skeptical approach from the Trump administration to visitors as the administration seeks to fulfill campaign promises focusing on terrorism. “If there is any doubt about a person’s intentions coming to the United States, they should have to overcome – really and truly prove to our satisfaction – that they are coming for legitimate reasons,” Gene Hamilton, a senior counsellor to the Department of Homeland Security stated.
At this time, this approach does not include individuals from the 38 countries that are in the visa waiver program, which was meant to ensure relatively unencumbered travel by facilitating data sharing between the nations in the program.
Under the new measures, visitors entering the United States could be required to hand over their unlocked phones so that officials can pull their stored contacts to find out who the traveler has been in communication with. Also, visitors could be asked to give out all of their social media usernames and passwords so that officials can see their public and private social media information.
These checks on contacts and social media history are mandatory for persons who have ever visited territory that is controlled by the Islamic State. Officials want to know what travelers are putting on the internet and what sites they are visiting. Additionally, visitors during an interview could be asked to provide their addresses and work history for the last fifteen (15) years. If a visitor were to refuse any of these requests, they could be denied entry into the country.
Finally, visitors could be subjected to an “ideological test” where they will be asked a series of questions to discover if their beliefs are compatible with U.S. values. These questions are under consideration and do not appear to be finalized at this point. However, some proposed questions that have been floated will inquire into the treatment of women in society, acceptability of “honor killings”, the sanctity of human life, and what are legitimate targets in military operations.
Privacy and Constitutional Concerns for Travelers
It is obvious that these new “extreme vetting” procedures represent a significant intrusion into travelers’ privacy. The question is whether they go too far and amount to controlling individuals’ ideas and speech. The ACLU argues that these policies in practice represent a policing of people’s “beliefs, statements, and associations.”
If visitors are aware that their social media and browsing history could be subject to a search, they will be incentivized to stay away from controversial topics on social media, reading about certain topics, and criticizing the government. Further, the ACLU argues these policies encourage abuse from border officials who will now be able to deny visitors simply because they dislike or disagree with a social media post.
What International Visitors to the U.S. Can Do
Travelers coming to the United States should be aware of these new procedures implemented by the Trump administration so their entry into the country can go as smoothly as possible. If visitors have any questions regarding their entry, they should consult an experienced immigration attorney.
If you would like to schedule a consultation with the Law Office of Kathryn N. Karam, P.C., please click here: