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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum

The Nonsensical Biometrics Check

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I arrived in Court the other day for an asylum case where I represented an Ethiopian poet who had been detained and persecuted for her political writings.* When the DHS attorney arrived, she told me that she had good news and not-so-good news.* The good news was that she reviewed the case and felt that my client should receive asylum (that was VERY good news).* The not-so-good news was that the biometric background check was not complete, so she thought we would have to reschedule the matter for another hearing, and the client would receive asylum at that time.* That news was inconvenient, and maybe a bit annoying, but not so bad.* However, it raises the question: What's the deal with those pesky biometric background checks?



DHS biometric technicians hard at work.



Before we get to that question, here is a more basic query: What the heck is a biometric?* The State Department defines the term as follows:


A biometric or biometric identifier is an objective measurement of a physical characteristic of an individual which, when captured in a database, can be used to verify the identity or check against other entries in the database. The best known biometric is the fingerprint, but others include facial recognition and iris scans.


In the case of asylum seekers, the biometrics are fingerprints and a photo.


Biometrics checks in asylum cases are valid for 15 months.* Meaning that if a case takes longer than that (which most cases do), the asylum seeker has to go for a new biometrics appointment where DHS again takes the person's fingerprints and photo.* What's nonsensical about this is that fingerprints do not change after 15 months.* In fact, the whole point of identifying people by their fingerprints is that the prints never change.* Otherwise, they would not be a very good way to identify people.* So why do the asylum seekers have to be re-printed?


As best as I can tell, sending asylum seekers for another fingerprint appointment is a way to "tickle" the system and generate a new background report.* So here's a suggestion: Rather than wasting hours of the asylum seekers' time arranging an appointment and traveling to the (always inconvenient) biometric office, and wasting the government's time and money to repeatedly fingerprint and photograph hapless asylum seekers, let's create a system where some government official pushes a button on a computer and generates a background check based on the existing biometric data.* This seems like a simple way to save time and money.* Also, since it can be done immediately prior to the Individual Hearing, it will be completely up to date.


In my Ethiopian case, the DHS attorney was able to run back to her office and get the results of the background check, so my client's case was granted that day.** But for efficiencies sake, it would be better to reform the current biometric procedures.


Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.

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