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US-VISIT Program Expands to U.S. Permanent Residents – Unreasonable?

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published a final rule on December 19, 2008 that will subject U.S. permanent residents (“green card” holders) to the US-VISIT (United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology) travel screening requirements. The program, which started January 5, 2004, requires the fingerprinting and photographing of most nonimmigrant foreign nationals applying for admission to the U.S. The final rule now extends the provisions to include U.S. permanent residents. This rule takes effect on January 18, 2009.

US-VISIT is aimed at verifying the identity of nonimmigrants seeking to enter the United States. As part of the program, digital finger scans are used to verify that the individual seeking to enter is the same person to whom the visa or other travel documents were issued. It is also used to check for new information (arising after visa or other document issuance) regarding involvement in terrorism or crime.

While there are advantages in expanding US-VISIT to include green card holders, including reducing the incidence of document fraud and potentially enhancing national security, the privacy interests of permanent residents will likely be eroded. An anomaly is also created by excluding certain classes of nonimmigrants from undergoing additional security measures upon entry to the U.S., while at the same time requiring that lawful permanent residents undergo the process of additional scrutiny. As mentioned in the comments to the rule, permanent residents have already undergone background checks and otherwise been scrutinized. Many permanent residents have resided in the U.S. for many years for suspicion – without incident or reason. However, they will now undergo the additional screening to reenter the U.S. after foreign travel.