Millions of green card holders will be fingerprinted and photographed
every time they enter the United States as part of an expansion of a
controversial biometric program, the U.S. Department of Homeland
Security announced on Thursday.
The expansion of the US-VISIT program to permanent residents–also
known as green card holders–takes effect on January 18, 2009. At the
moment, the program’s biometric requirements apply to foreign citizens
with a non-immigrant visa or those traveling as part of the so-called
Visa Waiver program.
Anyone screened as part of the US-VISIT program must provide digital
fingerprints and a photograph at the border, plus date of birth,
address while in the country, and other information that the U.S.
government deems appropriate. The information is checked against a
government database of known terrorists and criminals. Refusing to give
prints of all 10 fingers will result in being denied entry to the
"Expanding enrollment in US-VISIT is a positive step forward in a
process designed to further improve public safety and national security
while ensuring the integrity of the immigration system," the DHS said
in a statement.
"Linking a person’s biometric information to his or her travel
documents reduces the risk that a traveler’s identity or documents
could be intentionally misused by someone attempting to gain entry into
the United States."
The program has been controversial. Government auditors have concluded
that US-VISIT has "significant information security control weaknesses
that place sensitive and personally identifiable information at
increased risk of unauthorized and possibly undetected disclosure and
modification, misuse, and destruction." Privacy groups have called it the "most elaborate system of identification in the United States."
Some visitors to the U.S. will continue to remain exempt, including
non-U.S. citizens younger than 14 or older than 79, as well as Canadian
citizens on short-term visits under B visas. US-VISIT stands for United
States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology.
The program was implemented in 2003, but a report (PDF)
released by the Government Accountability Office this month details the
shortcomings of the program, noting that "program planning and
execution limitations and weaknesses…confront DHS in its quest to
deliver US-VISIT capabilities and value in a timely and cost-effective
The report said the DHS has not taken action to address some of
the program’s risks, even though they have been known for years. While
the department has taken many steps aimed at improving the management
of US-VISIT, the report said, more needs to be done, or else "program
performance, transparency, and accountability will suffer."
Privacy and security are two of the main challenges facing US-VISIT, its chief information officer said at a biometrics conference
in October. However, the program has virtually erased the
once-prominent problem of document fraud at U.S. borders, its director
The Department of Homeland Security has not announced any plans to
fingerprint U.S. citizens at the border. When going through the green
card process, current applicants are required to be fingerprinted.