President Donald Trump this month unveiled a new proposal aimed at strengthening border security and modifying immigration laws, calling for 100 percent scanning of all people and goods entering the U.S. at ports of entry.
“Investment in technology will ensure we can scan 100 percent of everything coming through, curbing the flow of drugs and contraband, while speeding up legal trade and commerce,” the president said in remarks at the White House. “We scan only a small fraction of the vehicles, goods, and all of the other things coming across, including people. And, sadly, the drugs pour across our border. We’re going to stop it.”
The proposal requires congressional approval, and likely changes in the design of ports, which is a costly endeavor.
Customs and Border Protection is responsible for processing foreign nationals and U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents into the U.S. The agency does fingerprint checks on most foreign nationals entering the U.S. by air, land and sea and is in the process of transforming the air entry process to add facial recognition.
But technology-based scans of people, cars, trucks and cargo are few and are typically done in secondary inspection zones. At U.S. airports, all travelers passing through security checkpoints have their carry-on bags scanned by X-Ray systems that require an operator to determine if any threats are present. Most air travelers step briefly into body scanners, called Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT), that identifies anomalies beneath their clothing that must be resolved by an officer.
Various companies such as Evolv Technology and Britain’s ThruVision are developing systems that screen people for potential threats beneath their clothing while they are still moving. Both companies have systems that are in use worldwide.
The technology for screening people, vehicles and cargo is called non-intrusive inspection (NII), and companies such as OSI Systems [OSIS], Leidos [LDOS] and others have developed systems that can safely scan vehicles relatively quickly without requiring their occupants to exit the vehicle.
In fiscal year 2019, congress provided $564 million to CBP for NII equipment to be deployed at land ports of entry (POE) to screen vehicles and the agency has already said it plans to buy systems that allow occupants to stay inside their vehicles.
“CBP’s plan is to over time have every truck and vehicle go through some type of NII equipment,” Thomas Winkowski, a former acting commissioner of CBP and former acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, told HSR in an email response to questions. “This will take time but in talking to some of my former colleagues in CBP, the NII equipment has come a long way, and they believe it can be done.”
He also said that NII equipment currently accounts for “A large number of seizures.” Winkowski is president of his own consulting firm, Global Border Solutions, LLC.
Winkowski also highlighted that there are infrastructure challenges that make it difficult to add NII technology to primary inspection lanes at land ports of entry. Noting that it will take years to accomplish, he said the lanes will likely “have to be modified and would have to have a much larger footprint, especially for the primary areas as vehicles and trucks enter the POE.”
CBP is seeking less than $100 million in new NII funds in FY ’20. The agency has five years to spend the funding appropriated in FY ’19.
To fund Trump’s technology vision at POEs, the president is proposing the establishment of a trust fund built on fees paid by border crossers.
“To make certain that we are constantly making the upgrades we need, our proposal creates a permanent and self-sustaining security trust fund,” Trump said. “This will be financed by the fees and revenues generated at the border crossings itself.”
Winkowski said that there are currently limited fees collected for border crossings, noting that pedestrians and passenger vehicles pay nothing.
The White House did not respond to emailed queries about the border security proposals.