The Electronic Nationality Verification Program: An Overview
U.S. immigration agencies use a range of programs to deport—or remove—certain noncitizens from the United States. Under the Trump administration, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and two of its component agencies, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), expanded their avenues for removal. One method, the Electronic Nationality Verification (ENV) program, was touted as a way to expedite the repatriation of certain Central Americans.
There is little public information about the ENV program—only fleeting references by officials or in obscure reports. Yet since 2019, the government has used ENV to rapidly deport thousands of people. This fact sheet describes the ENV program, whom it affects, and highlights concerns regarding the program.
What is the Electronic Nationality Verification Program?
Under the ENV program, CBP coordinates with ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) to “remove eligible [individuals] with a final order of removal to their native countries.” As of 2019, the agencies can remove nationals of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras through ENV. It is not clear whether more countries participate as of January 2021.
A pre-existing program with Mexico—called the Interior Repatriation Initiative (IRI)—provided the framework for ENV. ICE ERO piloted IRI with Mexico in 2012 and made it a permanent initiative a year later.
The ENV and IRI programs enable DHS to quicky deport from the United States a person with final removal orders without obtaining travel documents from the foreign national’s government. Prior to ENV, if an individual arrived at the border without a valid passport from their home country, ICE was required to contact the individual’s consulate to verify their nationality, as well as to obtain formal travel documents. ICE could obtain “electronic travel documents” for nationals of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and the Dominican Republic. Under ENV, not only are travel documents produced electronically but a person’s nationality is verified electronically, sometimes through the use of biometric identifiers. In some instances, people are deported within hours of arrival.
DHS announced in 2019 that it was expanding ENV. CBP has deemed ENV a successful “migration mitigation” strategy and indicated plans to implement ENV and other strategies in full after the COVID-19 pandemic.