Tracking Asylum Seekers via RFID

By Mark Roberti

RFID-enabled wristbands could make it a lot easier to track refugees, asylum seekers and those entering a country illegally and waiting to be deported.

The news channels across the United States are bombarding the airwaves with news that the Trump Administration has been separating the children of parents crossing into the country illegally, due to the parents being detained in prisons under a "zero tolerance policy." It's not this publication's place to comment on political issues, but it's clear to me that the agencies managing the children, and even the parents, could benefit from using RFID technology.

Thousands of children being held in temporary shelters poses a logistical nightmare. The children don't speak English, may not have any travel documents or identification, and are sometimes moved to different facilities if one becomes overcrowded. When it comes time to reunite parents and their children, how do you find the right kids?

I think a simple system of using a wristband with a high-frequency (HF) or ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID transponder would make the job a lot easier. A government agent could place an ID bracelet on a child and read the serial number in its transponder. That number could be recorded in a database and associated with the child's name, his or her parents' names and the facility where that child was being housed. Once the child left the facility. the transponder would be read. As he or she arrived at a new facility, the transponder would be interrogated again and the database would be updated with the child's new location.

The state of Texas, where many of the illegal immigrants are being housed, already has such a system in place. Back in 2008, the state's Governor's Division of Emergency Management (GDEM) introduced a Texas Special Needs Evacuation Tracking System (SNETS), which uses RFID wristbands to identify evacuees (see Texas Turns to RFID for Emergency Evacuation System).

When the GDEM calls for an evacuation, it dispatches buses to pre-designated collection points. Evacuees make their own way to the collection points, where they receive wristbands that include a unique ID number pre-encoded into an RFID tag and bar code. State emergency workers scan the bar code on the wristband using a handheld computer, then enter the evacuee's personal information. The transaction associates the evacuee with his or her unique ID number, and the information is transferred to a state database at a secure location via a wireless network. Evacuees then board the bus, which is tracked by GPS, and are driven to a secure reception center.

RFID reader portals are set up at the reception centers. As evacuees enter the shelter, they pass through the RFID portal, which reads each person's wristband and records his or her safe arrival. The state database is then again once more in real time via the wireless network.

This system won't calm the political waters that have been stirred up. However, it could help to manage the people involved a lot more easily.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below. To read more of Mark's opinions, visit the RFID Journal Blog or the Editor's Note archive.