From the Senate to HQ to You & I

A little ammendment in a appropriations bill passed by the US
Senate has cut funding
to the INS’s ne w special alien registration
program. National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) has
come under considerable scrutiny after a few of snafus and
complaints by targeted communities. The program has had HREF=”
in netting a few felons and terrorists, most of those detained
had simple immigration complications. Leaving aside the details of how
unsimple immigration complications often are, I want state that generally
they result from inconsistency at the top.

Sometimes it’s the State Department issuing visas to people the Justice
Department would never let into the country. Sometimes it’s the
Adjudications branch telling people they can stay while the Investigations
branch is ready to bounce them over the border. Sometimes it’s an
incoherent memo from HQ on the Potomac being contradicted by a supervisor
who doesn’t understand it either. And sometimes, it’s Congress being a
bunch of nutjobs.

The main purpose of the amendment was to restore funding
for a congressionally mandated program that by 2005 is designed to provide
information on the identity of all visitors to the United States and track
when they enter and leave the country.

Uh huh. This explains why NSEERS was cut out of it. Right.

A spokesman for the sponsoring senator the amendment “cuts
funding until Congress has the information it needs to assess whether this
is the most effective use of tax dollars in the war on terrorism.”

This just days after the INS announces a
class of Special Aliens [PDF] needing registration.
I don’t claim to understand how congressional funding links to department
policy which gets passed down to me as port policy and memos. But I’m
quiet certain that I’d land in jail if I stopped doing the NSEERS
registrations. I’m also certain I’m not going to do them pro bono. I
wonder where the money’s going to come from. I mean, we’re not just going
to suspend the program until Congress decides it’s efficient enough to
continue, are we? Someone, somewhere is trying to write a memo about this
and I really don’t want to read it. I can just see the look on an
traveler’s face six months from now:

“Yes I know you registered like you were supposed to. And I
know you left when the program had been suspended. But it’s back now and
you can’t come in because you didn’t register when you left. What? No,
there wasn’t anyone to register you out, but that’s not the point…”

I suspect NSEERS is an inefficient program. But let’s be realistic here:
You’re trying to track each person who enters and exits the country. The
higher the accuracy you demand, the more it’s going to cost. You can rely
on airline passenger manifests but… well, I wouldn’t.

Reading the tea leave I conclude that budget cuts in staffing are on the
way: the port is scaling back outward assignments, the union is jokeying
with management over increasing the workload, and USCS – which always gets
hit before us – has had overtime slashed. If I’m right we could see
defections to local police departments flush out the port until staffing
shortages force overtime (and therefore the average paycheck) back up. The
Invisible Hand works even inside the Federal Government.

Expect longer lines at airports.