NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. (WIVB) - Federal records reveal hundreds of thousands of foreigners who recently crossed into Canada participated in a little-known test project.
The "Beyond the Border Declaration and Action Plan" agreed on by President Obama and Prime Minister Harper in 2011 includes a component to better document those who leave the United States. It's known as an "Entry/Exit program." A federal synopsis explains, "An entry into one country is considered an exit from the other."
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Previously, the U.S. had no way of knowing who was outstaying their visas. Federal records show foreigners who crossed at Rainbow and Lewiston-Queenston bridges from September 2012 through January 2013 had their passport data recorded. The Canadian government sent the data back to Washington, D.C. for analysis.
News 4 spoke with several foreign visitors at Niagara Falls who had no idea the program even existed. Terry Bailey spent nine days in New York this June. The Australian told us he was crossing into Canada at the Rainbow International Bridge. Like it or not, he likely ended up participating in the border security program.
He believes it's a good idea. "People really shouldn't outstay their visas or anything. We have a lot of problems with people coming into Australia without proper documentation," Bailey said.
Other visitors were surprised the program has taken so long to create.
Tina Lara from Sweden told us, "We've had that for years already. [Sweden] is in the European Union, and everybody knows there's a big problem; we're keeping our borders very close."
News 4 has learned as of June 30, the relatively secret program will be used by the Department of Homeland Security and its Canadian counterparts at virtually all international bridges. The southern crossings into Mexico are not impacted.
A local spokesperson for DHS referred us to Washington. A national spokesperson also wasn't able to answer questions. She referred us to the report.
It says the U.S. and Canadian strategy is part of a "...Shared approach to strengthening perimeter security and accelerating the legitimate flow of people, goods and services..."
Illegal immigration is at the center of this new project. The most recent numbers from the Pew Hispanic Center show, roughly 40 percent of illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. on visas never leave.
Passport data obtained at the border will be destroyed within six months.
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