Visa Overstays: Two-Decades of Congressional, White House Paralysis

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By Joe Guzzardi

Joe is a CAPS Senior Writing Fellow whose commentaries about California's social issues have run in newspapers throughout California and the country for nearly 30 years. Contact Joe at joeguzzardi@capsweb.org, or find him on Twitter @joeguzzardi19.

The writer's views are his own.

March 16, 2017

A new Center for Migration Studies report underlined a not-so-new immigration problem. CMS found that since 2007 most illegal aliens in the U.S. overstayed their visas, and didn’t, as is the common perception, unlawfully cross the border.

Will the Trump administration do what Clinton,
Bush, Obama wouldn’t – create entry-exit system?

Among those who arrived in 2014, according to CMS, two-thirds overstayed their allotted time or violated other terms of their temporary visa. The Miami Herald published a story that featured a visa overstay who had permission to be in the U.S. for six months, but stayed for eight years. CMS predicts that the “trend is likely to continue.”

To repeat, overstays are an age-old enforcement dilemma for the simple but inexplicable reason that federal officials refuse to eliminate the problem. In fact, the neglect in implementing an entry-exit system that would track who comes in and when they leave is astonishing even to veteran immigration critics. CAPS has reported extensively on the security and population growth problems overstays present.

In his story last year titled “Illegal Immigrants Who Overstay Their Visas Hardly Ever Caught, Feds Admit,” Washington Times reporter Stephen Dinan wrote that, in 2015, at least 480,000 overstayed which brought the backlog total to 5 million. Of those 5 million, immigration officials investigated just 10,000 cases, or 0.2 percent, and arrested only 2,000, just 0.004 percent. Really, no U.S. visitor who decides either before or after entering to overstay has the slightest incentive to leave in accordance with his visa’s term limit.

At a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing held last year, U.S. Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) summed up how inexplicable it is not to efficiently track overstays. Sen. Johnson observed that everyone legally entering the U.S. has a passport with a specific number attached to it. Customs and Border Protection enters the pertinent information into a database which, when linked to a specific visa, could identify an overstay at “the push of a button.” An exasperated Sen. Johnson concluded that in the private sector, developing an effective database to aide in overstayers’ removal would “almost be like falling off a log.”

Compared to the proposed temporary travel pause on six terrorist-sponsoring Middle Eastern nations, biometric entry-exit is low-hanging fruit for the enforcement-minded Trump administration. Congress created the original system in 1996 as part of President Clinton’s Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act. Had it been immediately put into place, entry-exit might have prevented 9/11. More than two decades and three presidential administrations later, the nation still doesn’t have entry-exit. President Trump should be eager to break his predecessors’ inaction.
 

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