Civil and immigrant rights groups however have vociferously denounced the new program as a "fancy but enormous" exercise in racial profiling.
"This system is not yet in place, but it will certainly lead to racial profiling," says Cyrus Mehta, chairman of the Immigration Law Committee of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York.
"Other countries also have militants, but this is a matter of applying the rules only to a certain group of people. How else would you determine this except by profiling? This is all very subjective."
Justice Department officials however vehemently deny the allegations that the new system will racially profile visitors. "Absolutely not," says Susan Dryden, a Justice Department spokeswoman. "There is nothing in the system to indicate this is based on race."
Noting that Congress has mandated a stricter entry-exit system under the sweeping anti-terrorism legislation signed by Bush late last year, Dryden says the criteria includes all individuals posing a "national security risk" as well as nationals of the five countries and "aliens identified by the INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) at a port of entry, using certain criteria."
She however declined to provide details of those criteria.
'Just Be Honest'
In a multiracial, multiethnic country that sees itself, among other things, as a refuge for all the world's huddled masses, profiling is a dark, dirty word in the American lexicon. But on both sides of the profiling divide, some experts wonder why the authorities simply do not come out and admit to racial profiling.
"There is definitely a nationality classification going on here, which usually translates into a racial or ethnic classification," Christopher Malone, a political science professor specializing in U.S. racial issues at New York's Pace University. "It is strange that the justice department doesn't call it this — I would prefer for them to just be honest about what they are doing rather than trying to have it both ways."
When it comes to official policy on profiling, Charles Bahn, a professor of forensic psychology at New York's John Jay College of Criminal Justice, says that in the course of a long career in the field, he has seen what he calls "three different periods in racial profiling."
"In the first period, the police used racial profiling very widely — and I think at great cost — particularly on young blacks and Hispanics," he says. "In the second phase, law enforcement officials went overboard trying to make it clear that they were not racial profiling. So, if the suspect was a 6-foot Swedish man, they would stop an elderly Italian lady."
Sept. 11 changed the pattern of profiling, according to Bahn, but what he finds most interesting was the results of a poll conducted by Zogby International after the attacks, which found that 60 percent of blacks favored a policy that singles out Arab-Americans for special scrutiny at airport check-in counters.
In Bahn's opinion, racial profiling in certain circumstances makes sense and in exceptional situations, the headaches that arise due to profiling must simply be put up with.
"You have to use whatever indicators that will bring you to the culprit," he says. "If somebody from the same group as you has a history of evil intent, then people like that person have to tolerate it for the good of society."
Ghosts of Internment