Part I of III: Tracking Travelers’ Entries and Exits – Guest Immigration Law Post by Atty Mr. Jan Bejar

Posted on Updated on

Tracking Travelers’ Entries and Exits

Part I of III:  Tracking Travelers’ Entries and Exits – Guest Immigration Law Post by Atty Jan Bejar

This immigration law guest post is related to prior posts: Global Entry, SENTRI and NEXUS after Renouncing – the “Trusted Traveler Programs” – SAFE TRAVELS!

See also, Tracking U.S. Citizens and LPRs in and Out of the Country – Tracking Taxpayers (Entry/Exit System)

For many years, since even before the 9/11 attack, the United States government has been trying to develop a comprehensive biometric system for tracking both entries to and exits from the United States. Although the government has a variety of mechanisms for tracking travelers’ entries into the U.S., tracking exits has proven to be a more difficult task.

For non-U.S. citizens, collecting data about a planned trip to the U.S. may begin even before an individual enters the U.S. For non-U.S. citizens who must first apply for a nonimmigrant visa to enter the U.S., the Department of State’s nonimmigrant visa application (Form DS-160) asks the applicant if he has made travel plans, and if so, for the details. Answering the question is optional, and obviously once the visa is issued, the Department of State does not track future travel plans. Additionally, the nonimmigrant visa application process requires an applicant to provide the Department of State with biographic and biometric data, which it stores in the Consular Consolidated Database (CCD). This database then links to some of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) databases described below. The CCD has been in the news for the last month because it has been experiencing “system performance issues,” causing delays for thousands of U.S. passport and visa applicants.[1]

For non-U.S. citizens from the currently 38 Visa Waiver Program countries planning to travel to the U.S. for up to 90 days without a visa,[2] travelers must first submit biographic information and respond to eligibility questions through an online application, the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). Customs and Border Protection (CBP), an agency within DHS, uses ESTA to screen applicants against terrorist, national security, and criminal watchlists.[3] The ESTA application requests information about travel plans, but providing travel details is optional.

For U.S. citizen and non-U.S. citizens alike traveling to the U.S. on commercial airlines, private aircraft, and commercial vessels such as cruise ships, CBP maintains the Advance Passenger Information System (APIS), an electronic data interchange system. Airlines and vessel carriers are required by law to provide CBP in advance with certain biographic information on all passengers and crew onboard all international departures and arrivals via APIS. The information transmitted to CBP includes biographic information, such as name, date of birth, gender, etc., and travel itinerary information. CBP also collects data from bus and rail carries on a voluntarily basis through APIS.

CBP sends the APIS data regarding non-U.S. citizens to the Arrival and Departure Information System (ADIS) to store and hold for matching against departure records.[4] DHS uses ADIS to store arrival and departure records, biographic data, and each traveler’s unique Fingerprint Identification Number System (FINS) identifier, which facilitates cross-referencing between ADIS and the Automated Biometric Identification System (IDENT) database, which is DHS’ primary biometric database. ADIS also aggregates records from a number of other DHS databases, including the CBP Nonimmigrant Information System (NIIS), the CBP Border Crossing Information System (BCI), the CBP TECS platform, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Student Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Computer Linked Information Management System (CLAIMS 3) among others, some of which will be discussed below.[5] ADIS stores this data for all non-U.S. citizens, including information on lawful permanent residents (“green card” holders), refugees, asylees, and nonimmigrants. There is a risk that ADIS might inadvertently retain data about U.S. citizens or retain data longer than permitted for travelers who subsequently become U.S. citizens.[6]

For commercial air travel, in addition to APIS, the Secure Flight Program requires domestic and international airlines to provide DHS with certain passenger manifest information at least 72 hours before flight time for all flights into or over the continental U.S.

For all travelers, including U.S. citizens, who either pass through preclearance inspections at certain foreign airports or through primary inspection at all U.S. ports of entry, CBP officers interview arriving travelers and check their travel documents. CBP collects basic biographic information, such as name, travel document number, and the date and location of arrival, for all travelers, including U.S. citizens. It captures the information and screens arriving travelers in TECS, CBP’s principal information-sharing platform for immigration screening and admissibility determinations. TECS is not only an information-sharing platform that allows inspectors to access different databases such as APIS, but also “a data repository to support law enforcement ‘lookouts,’ border screening, and reporting for CBP’s primary and secondary inspection processes.”[7] IRS officers can request that DHS add or delete travelers from lookout lists in TECS.[8] “CBP officers use TECS to check travelers against law enforcement and national security watchlists and to record and report on primary and secondary inspection results.”[9] Records of border crossings for all travelers, including U.S. citizens, are then stored in the BCI, and records for nonimmigrant visa holders are stored in the NIIS.

Several land ports of entry on both the northern and southern borders maintain dedicated “ready lanes” for travelers with radio frequency identification (RFID)-enabled travel documents, such as the U.S. passport card, the enhanced driver license, the newer enhanced permanent resident card, and the enhanced border crossing card. RFID-enabled documents allow CBP inspectors to quickly query TECS and create a record of the crossing.

Land ports of entry additionally utilize license plate readers in vehicle lanes to determine the plate number and issuing agency of vehicles passing through inspection, and that information is also used to query TECS. CBP denies maintaining a database of vehicle locations but will share license plate information in a law enforcement capacity, including with the National Insurance Crime Bureau and car insurance companies. License plate data is maintained for two years, unless it is moved to and maintained in another system with a different destruction schedule.

Also, most non-U.S. citizens arriving at air and sea ports are required to provide biometric data (fingerprints and digital photographs). The biometric data is added to IDENT, which is DHS’ primary biometric database, and vetted against additional biometric databases.[10] The Office of Biometric Identity Management (OBIM) maintains IDENT and provides DHS with biometric identification technological services, including storing, managing and analyzing the biometric data. OBIM is part of DHS’ National Protection and Programs Directorate, and it replaced DHS’ US-VISIT program in March 2013.

[More to follow . . . ]

[1] See, last updated August 4, 2014.

[2] See for more information on the Visa Waiver Program.

[3] See “Border Security: Immigration Inspections at Port of Entry,” Seghetti, Lisa, Section Research Manager, Congressional Research Service, January 9, 2014, last viewed at

[4] See “Written testimony of U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for a House Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security hearing titled ‘Fulfilling A Key 9/11 Commission Recommendation: Implementing Biometric Exit,’” released September 26, 2013, last viewed at

[5] See “Privacy Impact Assessment Update for the Arrival and Departure Information System – Information Sharing Update,” March 7, 2014, last viewed at

[6] See id.

[7] See “Privacy Impact Assessment for the TECS System: CBP Primary and Secondary Processing,” Department of Homeland Security, December 22, 2010, last viewed at

[8] See

[9] See supra at fn. 3.


Jan Joseph Bejar, Esq.


Tel: (619) 291-1112

Fax:(619) 291-1102



Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.