An immigration reform bill introduced in Congress last Thursday includes a focus on the use of technology to facilitate secure travel and trade at the nation’s ports of entry and also to maintain security between ports of entry.
The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 was delivered to Congress last month by the Biden administration and introduced in the House and Senate last week by Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) and Sen. Bob Menendez(D-N.J.).
One section of the bill directs the Department of Homeland Security to “develop and implement” a plan for the use of technology to expedite the screening of trade and travel while also improving the ability to identify drugs and contraband at air, land and sea ports of entry.
The bill wants the plan to provide specifics on increasing the rate of “high-throughput scanning of commercial and passenger vehicles and freight rale entering the U.S.” using non-intrusive inspection (NII) system or similar technology at pre-primary inspection points. Congress in the fiscal year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act directed DHS to provide it with a plan within 180 days for how it will achieve 100 percent scanning of all commercial and passenger vehicles and freight rail traffic entering the U.S. using large-scale NII systems.
The defense bill was vetoed by former President Trump but the House and Senate subsequently overrode the veto, turning the bill into law.
The U.S. Citizenship Act requires DHS to deploy the new scanning technology within five years so that all commercial and passenger vehicles and freight rail traffic is scanned at land ports of entry and rail-border crossings before entering the U.S. It also directs DHS to describe the technologies and improvements needed to improve the passenger experience for air travelers and better identifying criminals and terrorists while reducing inspection and wait times.
Customs and Border Protection, a component of DHS, last year awarded contracts for new NII systems to be deployed at freight rail crossings and the agency is also hosting competitions to purchase new large-scale NII systems designed to speed up the scanning of commercial and passenger vehicles at ports of entry. Deployments of the rail systems have begun and once awards are made for the new commercial and passenger vehicle scanning systems, the number of vehicles being scanned as they enter the U.S. will increase dramatically.
The bill also wants DHS to review how it can increase the amount of maritime shipping containers that are scanned.
A second section of the bill directs DHS to “develop and implement” a strategy for deploying “smart technology” to secure and manage the southern border. DHS is directed to assess existing technologies and related tools such as physical barriers and levees.
The strategy will include the deployment of “flexible” technology solutions between ports of entry at the land border that can also “be easily relocated.” The border security technology strategy should also describe plans for the systems and tools for each Border Patrol sector to provide situational awareness during the next five years.
Various types of ground-based sensor systems are currently deployed along portions of the southern border to alert for potentially illegal activity.
The bill doesn’t mention technology for securing the northern land border between ports of entry. CBP in some areas of the northern border is using video surveillance systems to monitor activity between ports of entry.
The U.S. Citizenship Act doesn’t have Republican support in Congress.
Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.), the ranking member on the House Homeland Security Committee, last Thursday issued a statement saying “Immigration reform must go hand-in-hand with border security, yet the language in this bill is an unserious effort. Most of the ‘border security’ provision in this proposal require DHS to develop plans and strategies that have already been required by Congress or already exist. “It therefore would not result in substantial and needed improvements at the border, while at the same time calling for immediate action on a broad range of immigration law changes.”
The Biden administration’s bottom-line support for how it will go about securing the nation’s borders will be better known when it sends its fiscal year 2022 budget request to Congress this spring. While Trump’s focus was on new physical barriers along the southern border to bolster security, final appropriation bills negotiated between congressional Democrats and Republicans typically added more funding for NII systems to be used at ports of entry and sensor technologies to provide situational awareness between the ports of entry.