As we approach the 10th anniversary of the attacks of “9/11,” we should take a look back over the past decade and see what strides we’ve made in the effort to make our border safer. At the same time, we need to resist the temptation of equating bureaucracy with security and make sure that the price we pay for security actually buys us greater security.
In an positive development for the tourism industry and for frequent travelers across the Canada and Mexico border, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced last week the latest new feature of the Global Entry Program. CBP has started to issue new Global Entry cards that should greatly facilitate the entry of participants into the United States by land. The cards are Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) approved entry documents, meaning card holders will not have to use their passports for short visits to the United States. In addition, card holders will be able to use dedicated, expedited entry lanes at participating land ports of entry.
This news piggybacks on an announcement in late July that CBP would start allowing Global Entry participants to complete immigration and customs formalities at pre-flight inspection kiosks at several airports in Canada (currently at Vancouver International Airport and Ottawa’s MacDonald-Cartier Airport, with Pearson International Airport in Toronto and Trudeau International Airport in Montreal expected to go live in September).
Originally launched in 2008, Global Entry is a CBP program that provides faster immigration and customs clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States. Participants scan a machine-readable passport or “green card” along with their finger prints at a kiosk and make a customs declaration. The kiosk then issues the traveler a transaction receipt and directs the traveler to baggage claim and the exit. The program is currently open to U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, citizens of Mexico, and citizens of Netherlands who are members of Privium, the Dutch trusted traveler program. Canadian citizens and landed immigrants can participate in Global Entry through NEXUS, the U.S.-Canada reciprocal trusted traveler program.
Any expansion of the Global Entry program is particularly worth noting, given the poisonous atmosphere hanging over Washington. Could the Global Entry Program be one of a handful of measures that both the Obama Administration and Congress can agree works? We sure hope so. This is a program that just makes sense, and it should be expanded so that legitimate travelers from across the globe can participate. The relatively minor investment required to make the program widely available will pay dividends for years to come.
Here’s why: It will help curtail cases of mistaken identity because the program uses biometric features. There are countless stories of multinational executives and other legitimate visitors experiencing excessive delays because they happen to share the same first and last name with a petty thief who is wanted by authorities. These mistakes waste time and money, for both innocent travelers and CBP inspectors. What’s more, by facilitating the admissions of the “good guys,” law enforcement is better prepared to focus on the “bad guys.”
We commend CBP for pressing forward with Global Entry. We recommend the program be expanded to 1) include all travelers who can pass the rigorous security screening to avoid delays and identity errors; 2) as part of the application process, allow applicants opportunity to resolve errors in the database that appear to disqualify them for enrollment; and 3) for travelers who pose no present threat, provide a mechanism to waive grounds of disqualification, such as very old minor criminal convictions or immigration violations, especially if the U.S. consulate has already scrutinized and approved their visa applications.
The Global Entry program is an ingenious way to address both the needs of a 21st century economy and the concerns of national security. CBP must trust its own instinct when rolling out this program and continue to expand it so that more legitimate travelers can come into the United States without unnecessary hassle. The Administration and Congress should be able to agree on that.