Authored by Chris Lund
One of the most effective weapons for providing a voice to the underrepresented is accurate information, and a general prerequisite to providing accurate information is the ability to obtain and manage accurate data. This latter goal of accurate data management constitutes the primary purpose of the Nonimmigrant Information System (“NIIS”). The attached presentation (the “NIIS Presentation”), taken from the Arthur P. Endres Collection at the Center For Migration Studies in New York City, appears to have been created some time around 1986 and presents a 15-page plan for improving on existing NIIS methods for collecting and managing data on nonimmigrants (i.e., foreign born individuals within the United States who are neither citizens nor permanent residents of the United States).
NIIS, originally created by the former Immigration and Naturalization Service, is now managed by the United States Customs and Border Protection branch of the Department of Homeland Security, and serves to collect “arrival and departure information … from foreign nationals entering and departing the U.S.”  At first glance, this appears to be a relatively simple and straightforward task, but as the NIIS Presentation shows, effectively implementing a system such as NIIS requires immense planning and coordination. For example, the NIIS Presentation notes that nonimmigrants enter and leave the United States through at least 300 individual points and that the system must track information of admissions, status changes, departures, visa waivers and overstays. Since the creation of the NIIS Presentation nearly 30 years ago, the administrative burden has only increased, with most recent estimates from 2012 suggesting a total nonimmigrant population of nearly 1.9 million individuals.
Opinions on the effectiveness of NIIS are mixed. As the NIIS Presentation shows, there is a great degree of thought and planning that has gone into implementing this system, but problems have been noted at several levels. NIIS has been criticized for unreliable data due to missing records and mistakes in initial data entry as well as for its inability to update address information or to distinguish between multiple individuals with the same name.
Tracking detailed data on individuals in a manner such as this has a broad array of implications. On the one hand, some may view this as a governmental overreach and a violation of fundamental human privacy rights, while others may see it as a necessity for both managing resources and for providing adequate national security. With a political environment in seemingly perpetual fear of looming terrorist attacks, one can easily see why some may favor this sort of information gathering, but if used responsibility, data such as this also has the potential to disprove stereotypes by demonstrating that the vast majority of the members of this generally underrepresented class are no different from current citizens and residents.
73 FR 77741
Department of Homeland Security [DHS] Office of Immigration Statistics. “Estimates of the Size and Characteristics of the Resident Nonimmigrant Population in the United States: January 2012.” DHS Office of Immigration Statistics. Feb. 2014. https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/ois_ni_pe_2012.pdf
Immigration and Naturalization Service. NIIS: Nonimmigrant Information System. ca. 1986. The Arthur P. Endres Collection, Center for Migration Studies, New York.
Strickland, Lee S. and Jennifer Willard. “Re-Engineering the Immigration System: A Case for Data Mining and Information Assurance to Enhance Homeland Security–Part I: Identifying the Current Problems.” Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 29, no. 1 (Oct, 2002): 16-21.
Verton, Dan. “Database Woes Thwart Counterterrorism Work.” Computerworld 36, no. 49 (Dec 02, 2002): 14.
 73 FR 77741
 Department of Homeland Security [DHS] Office of Immigration Statistics. “Estimates of the Size and Characteristics of the Resident Nonimmigrant Population in the United States: January 2012,” DHS Office of Immigration Statistics, Feb. 2014, https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/ois_ni_pe_2012.pdf
 Lee S. Strickland and Jennifer Willard, “Re-Engineering the Immigration System: A Case for Data Mining and Information Assurance to Enhance Homeland Security–Part I: Identifying the Current Problems,” Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 29, no. 1 (Oct, 2002): 16-21.