U.S. Department of Homeland Security to Expand Airport Preclearance Program

By Erin Delmore

The Department of Homeland Security is expanding its preclearance program which allows people traveling to the United States to be screened by U.S. Customs officials before they set foot on American soil.

Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson said, “Any opportunity we have to expand out this nation’s homeland security beyond the one yard line to the 20 or the 30 yard line, I want to take.”

Johnson announced 11 new foreign airports in nine countries working with DHS to offer prescreening, including: Bogota, Buenos Aires, Edinborough, Osaka, Reykjavik, Mexico City, Milan, Rome, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and St. Maarten.

“On May 1, we announced a solicitation of interest from other airports to enter into preclearance discussions with us. I’m happy to announce that today we’ve identified 11 overseas airports at which we intend to enter into discussions to build preclearance capabilities in those airports… Through these 11 airports pass an estimated 10 million passengers bound for the United States a year,” said Johnson.

If all goes to plan, travelers to the U.S. from these additional airports would undergo immigration, customs and agriculture inspection before boarding a direct flight to the U.S. Those inspections would be done by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials.

Johnson said, “This is good for the homeland. It’s good for efficiency.”

Preclearance is already underway at 15 airports in six countries including Canada, Ireland, the United Arab Emirates, Aruba, the Bahamas and Bermuda.

Secretary Johnson said airport screening is a key part of America’s homeland security efforts.

In fiscal year 2016, he said customs officials denied boarding to 6,000 individuals. It’s part of an ongoing effort by DHS, TSA, U.S. Department of State and U.S. Customs and Boarder Protection.

While Johnson didn’t give a number when asked how much the program’s expansion would cost, he said the U.S. enters into cost-sharing agreements with foreign governments at the host airports — defraying expenses for infrastructure and personnel. Johnson said screening U.S. bound passengers before they board their flights is the most effective way to maintain security, cut wait times and keep costs down. He said it’s less expensive to deny someone boarding than to deny them entry once they arrive and have to send them back home.