Why the DHS Electronic Matrix Will Catch Us All

Since 9/11, Legacy INS and now DHS have made significant efforts to digitize data about foreign nationals entering the U.S. (as well as U.S. citizens and permanent residents). Over the years, we have seen DHS introduce many electronic programs via its immigration-related agencies, CIS, CBP and ICE. These programs include InfoPass, E-Verify, ELIS, Self-Check, (USCIS), ODLS, (ICE), and ESTA, Global Entry, SENTRI, and NEXUS, (CBP). CBP’s joint efforts with USCIS to automate the Form I-94 Arrival and Departure Record, a gargantuan task by itself, is another big step towards digitizing all data related to travelers into (and out of) the U.S.

The digitizing of data can help streamline efficiencies for various branches of DHS. Having data in a central system will help to locate data quicker and hopefully reduce human typographical errors. It can also encourage inter-agency collaboration with the Department of State, the Department of Labor and federal, state and municipal law enforcement agencies. Nearly every website that features an electronic DHS program boasts the time-saving efficiencies as a benefit to both the government and foreign nationals.

DOMESTIC: DEFERRED ACTION FOR CHILDHOOD ARRIVALS

However, data sharing may not be in the best interest of foreign nationals. The recent DHS stakeholder meeting affirmed the agency’s inter-departmental sharing of data. Any data provided to USCIS as part of a Request for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals may be shared with ICE or CBP if it meets Notice to Appear Guidance. Certainly, this caveat has important implications for potential Childhood Arrival clients submitting requests to USCIS for Deferred Action. How will your organization advise these clients?

ABROAD: VISA AND PASSPORT APPLICANTS

Data sharing has even deeper roots when it comes to background screening applicants for criminal proceedings or immigration benefits. In the context of consular processing visa and passport applicants, the Department of States has beefed up its Consular Lookout and Support System (CLASS) database. As of 2009, CLASS contained over 26 million records, of which more than 70% of its records were derived from other agencies. CLASS data is now matched to fingerprint and facial recognition information from DHS’ Automated Biometric Identification System (IDENT) and the FBI’s Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS), all forming a robust matrix of digital data housed in the Consular Consolidated Database (CCD). [Editor’s Note: Yes, our government seems to be obsessed with acronyms.] In the interest of achieving homeland security protection, the added communication between multiple inter-agencies is laudable.

What does it mean for foreign national clients (and U.S. expatriates seeking passports)? More data from which to sort means potential time-delays for security checks to clear. Applicants with common names or citizens of certain countries would testify that security checks have delayed their visa processing abroad, to the detriment of being able to commence their work assignments in a timely fashion in the U.S. Even if and when foreign nationals finally do enter the U.S., practitioners should know that USCIS’ automated I-94 pilot program will digitally track the entry and exit dates for foreign nationals. Unauthorized overstays that have been flagged in this system will certainly reappear during future visa applications with a consulate. Have you taken the necessary precautions to advise clients appropriately?

In these instances, the best way to combat overstays is to inform clients of the ramifications and help them track their dates. Most thriving immigration practitioners will tell you that they don’t go it alone.  They employ technology of their own to help them and their clients keep track of timeline deadlines and alerts!