The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has announced that beginning in May, it will begin implementing a new system called Customer Identity Verification (CIV) in its field offices.
For years, applicants seeking any kind of documentation (visas, green cards, citizenship, etc.) have been required to consent to biometric data — usually digitally scanned fingerprints and photographs taken at a special processing unit. But this information was often only used to check criminal records before issuing documentation.
What’s new is that USCIS will now require anyone seeking their immigration services to verify their identity with CIV upon entering the field office. CIV links back to the biometric database, and this service is intended to both protect national security by better tracking immigrants on visas and decrease identity fraud by using more fool-proof methods of identity verification.
This new directive is logical and practical. First of all, biometrics are undoubtedly far more difficult to falsify than legal paperwork or documentation — just ask your local college student, who probably has a fake ID.
Second, we’ve been collecting biometric data for years, but haven’t been using it. Many concerns center around the argument that this is a breach of privacy, but this information has been securely stored by the U.S. government for years, and nothing has leaked yet. Countries around the world use such systems on much vaster scales (think India’s 1.2 billion) and even specifically for immigration purposes (like Canada’s guest worker program).
There is, however, one significant problem: CIV only affects those already using the system. As an isolated mandate, it won't change much. It might alert USCIS that an immigrant has overstayed their visa, but it cannot keep tabs on them. It also completely ignores those entering the country without ever passing through a point of entry. And that’s not to mention that the fear it will definitely create might serve as a deterrent from using immigration services at all, which would cause a backfire in the worst way.
This system would be a realistic security measure in a post-immigration-reform world, where policies reflected actual immigration realities, workers were legally allowed into the country through guest worker programs, and there weren't 11 million undocumented immigrants residing in the U.S. Until then, CIV can best be described as underwhelming.