6th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center

Entry-Exit Systems in North America

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Webcast Recap

On Wednesday, February 5, the Canada Institute hosted a discussion on the risks, challenges, and rewards of implementing a robust entry-exit system throughout North America. Comprehensive entry-exit tracking for non-citizens entering and leaving the United States has proven elusive. While non-citizens who enter the United States go through a variety of controls, little has been done to track non-citizens when they leave the country. Canada and the United States began working together recently to close the loop by counting entry into one country as an exit from the other. New legislation in Congress is being considered to add mandatory exit controls at all ports of entry. 

Panel One

Theresa Brown, moderator, President, Cardinal North Strategies, LLC

Christopher Sands, Senior Fellow, Hudson Institute

Kathleen Campbell Walker, Partner, Cox-Smith

Theresa Brown began the discussion by examining the motivations for mandating an entry/exit system, noting that the idea for entry/exit was first introduced in response to immigration issues—namely visa over-stayers. After 9/11, entry/exit systems were perceived through a national security lens, but now they have somewhat reverted to their original purpose of managing illegal immigration. 

Kathleen Campbell Walker, a shareholder of the Cox-Smith law firm, discussed the interaction between entry/exit requirements and immigration. She noted it has taken so long to implement entry/exit systems because there are significant roadblocks: “We have restrictions on staffing, infrastructure, and, although technology has improved, we are still having issues related to tracking entry. So the idea of having exit implemented rapidly, I would say anything even in a 5- to 10-year range is a stretch, because in some circumstances you have got to build ports of entry, you have to add lanes, and I don’t understand why that message cannot be delivered more clearly.” She also expressed doubt that biometric exit systems would be feasible in the foreseeable future on the southern border.

Christopher Sands outlined the history of entry/exit systems in the United States. He framed the discussion around 3 themes: aspiration, advances, and attitude, and sketched the movements from distrust to trust, especially in the relationships between the Administration and Congress, the federal government and the states, and the United States and Canada and Mexico. He noted that “the difficulty of entry/exit has not been just about solving the technology problem…, not just about issuing legislative mandates out of Congress and the difficult debates there, and resolving the fight between Washington and the states over immigration enforcement, it was also about trust.” He also discussed the 9/11 Commission Report, and its recommendation to remove the Western Hemisphere exemption, thus requiring all persons to show a passport to cross the border. Amid fears that an entry/exit system would slow border crossings, the United States and Canada created the Beyond the Border Action Plan to exchange entry data, so that an entry into one country is counted as an exit from the other.

Keynote Address

Colleen Manaher, Executive Director, Entry/Exit Transformation Office, Customs & Border Protection

Colleen Manaher outlined the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s plan to implement entry/exit systems. Collecting exit data, she argued, allows the federal government to better deploy scarce resource and improve decision making. She also points out three myths of exit systems: that exit must replicate entry, that paper documents are necessary, and that biometrics are needed everywhere. The new strategy will include three key stages: closing biographic data gaps, implementing targeted biometric operations, and transforming processes. She noted that sharing entry data with Canada has been “a home run” as the data matches are at 97-98%. Manaher emphasized that the testing and scientific processes used to create the system will be robust.

Panel Two

Chris Wilson, moderator, Associate, Mexico Institute, Wilson Center

Martin Rojas, Vice President, Security and Operations, American Trucking Associations

Tovah LaDier, Managing Director, International Biometrics and Identification Association

Martin Rojas detailed how reforms could ease border crossing problems for the industry. He began by claiming that “the borders are our lifeline and lifeblood for North American trade.” Rojas noted how dependent the industry is on timely crossings to remain on schedule, but remains skeptical that entry/exit would relay curtail undocumented migration. Rojas’s main recommendation included using technology to expedite crossings. He advocated the move to an unmanned, automated border.

Tovah LaDier discussed the differences between biometrics and biographics. She remarked that biometrics is the best and most way to gain assurance of a traveler’s true identity and that enhanced biographic data, which mines information from the internet to confirm identities, is another option. LaDier noted that a large amount of personal information can aid agents in ascertaining identity. However, she claimed that the best solution will likely be a combination of available technology and methods. Like many of the panelists before, LaDier pointed out the many challenges to implementation, but acknowledged that there have been successful implementations, especially the land border crossing between Hong Kong and China.