WASHINGTON – The Trump administration's new executive order on immigration appears to dramatically pare back its earlier call for biometric scans for all travelers crossing the U.S.-Canadian border, meaning the order may not cause massive backups at border crossings after all.
Issued on Monday, the new executive order does not call for a biometric scan on "all travelers" crossing the border, as Trump's original executive order did.
Instead, it limits biometric scans – such as fingerprints or iris scans – to "in-scope travelers."
The Department of Homeland Security did not respond to questions regarding the meaning of "in-scope travelers." But, a 2005 federal study on improving the use of technology at the border included a definition that exempted U.S. and Canadian citizens from being "in-scope."
If that's the definition of the term the Trump administration is using, the new biometric requirement would restrict biometric scans to people from other countries who already have to undergo a secondary inspection after they speak with an agent at a booth at the border, said Ron Rienas, general manager of the Peace Bridge Authority.
Rep. Chris Collins, a Clarence Republican who wrote to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly to express his concerns about the original biometric plan, said he was happy with the changes in the second version of the executive order.
“The new executive order successfully addresses my previous concerns related to the biometric exit-entry program, while refining its core principles of increased screening for individuals entering our country and keeping Americans safe," Collins said.
Much hinges on what the Trump administration means by "in-scope travelers."
The new executive order never defines that term – which is not one commonly used by government agencies on either side of the border.
However, the Department of Homeland Security contracted for a border technology study in 2005 that defined in-scope travelers as those with a non-immigrant visa, applicants for the visa waiver program and many Mexican citizens.
Rienas said that definition excludes U.S. and Canadian citizens, who make up by far the largest number of people crossing the U.S-Canadian border.
"My understanding of 'in-scope' means it would not apply to most people coming through the land border," said Rienas, who predicted massive border crossing delays if a biometric test were to be required of all travelers. "If our reading is correct, our concerns have been addressed."
Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, read the new language more broadly. Staffers in his office believe requiring a biometric test for everyone not from the U.S. or Canada would overtax facilities at the border bridges, although not as much as requiring such a test for all travelers would.
"You could narrow something, but if you take something that doesn't make a lot of sense in the first place and narrow it, it still doesn't make sense," Higgins said. "It may be less onerous, but it's still unnecessary and unworkable."
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said it would be too risky to add a biometric scan requirement to people crossing land borders who are referred for a secondary inspection.
"Moving too hastily at busy land crossings to implement complicated new technology like biometric entry-exit could greatly disrupt that vital cross-border flow, which is why we should use common sense and not rush ahead until it has been tested elsewhere," Schumer said. "We need to crawl before we can walk and should implement it first at major airports, test it and review it and then gauge how best to implement or to adapt it to better fit the reality of other types of crossings."
Collins insisted that the revised executive order largely solved the problem that had prompted him to complain to Kelly, the Homeland Security secretary: a wide-ranging biometric scan requirement that would have caused huge border delays.
"I was happy to play a small role in ensuring President Trump recognized the concerns of Western New Yorkers regarding the potentially devastating delays the previous Executive Order would have caused along our northern border," Collins said.
Rienas noted that he couldn't feel entirely secure about the issue until the Trump administration clarifies the meaning of "in-scope" travelers.
Until then, "all we really have are individual opinions," Rienas said.