A clause in Donald Trump’s new travel ban could cause problems for all visitors
Exiting America might become as much of a hassle as entering it
Mar 9th 2017 by A.W.
IF YOU are an Iraqi, or a Syrian refugee, President Donald Trump’s new travel ban will seem like an improvement over the old one. But a little-noticed clause in the measure could make travelling to America a much greater hassle, even for people carrying passports that spare them the toughest restrictions, such as Europe and Asia.
The major provisions of the updated executive order, which Mr Trump signed on March 6th, have been well publicised. The decree will once again face swift legal challenges but, if it survives, citizens of six majority-Muslim countries will still be barred from entering America for the next three months. Iraqis, though, will now be exempt from the ban and the indefinite exclusion on Syrian refugees has also been lifted, once a 120-day period has expired.
However, the Daily Beast spotted a provision on the collection of biometric data. The issue is not actually new. After the 9/11 attacks, Congress passed a law mandating the collection of such things as fingerprints and photos from all travellers into and out of America. But that law was never fully carried out. While customs collects biometric information from people entering the country, it doesn’t do so when they leave.
That may now change. Sandwiched between sections on thwarting terrorists and tightening visa interviews is one that calls for “Expedited Completion of the Biometric Entry-Exit Tracking System.” The section directs the secretary of homeland security to complete and implement biometric tracking for “in-scope travelers,” which as Gary Leff, an air travel expert, explained to the Daily Beast, probably means all non-citizens entering or exiting the country.
That would be a time-consuming hassle. Before boarding their flights, these visitors would have to queue up at an additional security line. It would be even worse for people making connecting flights. For example, a British national on a business trip to Washington, DC, might have to connect through Philadelphia en route to Heathrow. But upon arrival in Philly he would probably have to leave the security area, join the biometric data queue, before going back through security. If the first flight were delayed or the layover brief, he would be at real risk of missing his second flight.
All of this inconvenience, of course, pales in comparison to that experienced by people who can’t travel to the United States at all as a result of the ban—those unable to visit their families, make work trips or seek refuge from dangers at home. Nor is it necessarily problematic if it serves a greater good: flyers were willing to put up with tremendous new inconveniences, from removing their shoes to checking the size of their toothpaste, in the interest of security after 9/11. But it is not at all clear that this new measure will have significant security benefits. Studies have shown that most jihadist terrorists in America are United States citizens or legal residents.
Instead, collecting biometric data upon exit seems more targeted at helping America track people who have overstayed their visas—which is why it is something that has been pushed by groups that want to crack down on undocumented immigrants. Within the realm of American politics, that’s an active debate. But to a Frenchman or a Brit simply hoping to return home after a business trip, it might seem a poor excuse for a missed flight.
Then again, now that the European Parliament has passed a non-binding recommendation to reintroduce visas for American visitors, this may feel to some on this side of the pond more like sweet revenge.