While the Trump administration focuses on securing the southern border, most illegal immigrants enter the United States legally and stay after their visa expires, a new study
by the Center for Migration Studies reveals. That’s because, incredibly, the U.S. doesn’t have an adequate system to assure the foreigners leave when they’re supposed to. This has been a serious problem for years and in fact some of the 9/11 hijackers overstayed their visa to plan the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil. More than a decade and a half later little has changed. Securing the famously porous southern border is essential to national security but so is a reliable system that cracks down on visa overstays.
How bad is the problem? More than half of the undocumented people living in the U.S. entered the country with visas that expired, according to a report issued this month by a New York-based think tank dedicated to studying international migration. The study analyzes Department of Homeland Security (DHS) statistics from 2014 and finds that two-thirds of foreigners who arrived did not cross the border illegally, but rather were admitted on non-immigrant temporary visas and overstayed their period of admission or otherwise violated the terms of their visas. “Overstays accounted for about two-thirds (66 percent) of those who arrived (i.e., joined the undocumented population) in 2014,” the report states.
Visa overstays exceeded illegal border crossings, Entries Without Inspection (EWI), every year since 2007, the report says, and 600,000 more overstays than EWIs have arrived since 2007. Most illegal immigrants in the U.S. come from Mexico, the DHS figures used to compile the report show, about one-third of them visa overstays. This translates into 4.5 million visa overstays from Mexico in the year that was studied. California has the largest number of overstays (890,000), followed by New York (520,000), Texas (475,000), and Florida (435,000). Not surprisingly, California and Texas have the biggest chunk of illegal border crossers from Mexico, with 1.7 million and 1.3 million respectively. Other states, such as Hawaii, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, also have large numbers of visa overstays, the report states.
The study was actually published to make a case against building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, but in the process highlights the visa overstay crisis which compromises national security just as much as the porous border. Judicial Watch has reported on both for years and obtained public records that help illustrate the severity of the matter. The bottom line is that Islamic terrorists are using both avenues to enter the U.S. As part of an ongoing investigation on the Mexican border, Judicial Watch has published a series of articles documenting how Middle Eastern terrorists have joined forces with Mexican drug cartels to infiltrate the U.S. and train in southern border towns near American cities. Sources include local, state and federal law enforcement officials as well as military figures on both sides of the border.
The threat created by visa overstays has also been well documented. Just last year Judicial Watch obtained DHS figures showing that more than half a million foreigners with expired visas—like four of the 9/11 jihadists—remained in the country, thousands of them from terrorist nations like Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Libya and Syria. More than 45,000 Mexicans overstayed their visa, according to the DHS records, and thousands more from El Salvador, Ecuador, Venezuela and China. The visas are granted for “business or pleasure” and the foreigners come via sea or air port of entry. For nearly a decade a number of federal audits have offered the alarming figures associated with visa overstays, including one released back in 2011 that estimates half of the nation’s illegal immigrants entered legally with visas.
A few years after the 2001 terrorist attacks Congress launched a system that was supposed to track the entry and exit of foreign nationals by using electronically scanned fingerprints and photographs. But five years and $1 billion later, the system, U.S. Visitor and Immigration Status Indicator Technology (US VISIT), still had serious flaws. A few years later the investigative arm of Congress, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), published a report confirming that nearly half of the nation’s illegal aliens entered the U.S. legally and overstayed their visas undetected.
In the years that followed the government did little to improve what has developed into a dire national security disaster. In 2011 yet another federal audit confirmed that the U.S. had lost track of millions who overstayed their visas and two years later the crisis intensified when DHS lost track of 266 dangerous foreigners with expired visas. The government determined that they “could pose a national security or public safety concerns,” according to the director of Homeland Security and Justice at the GAO.
Tom Fitton is the president of Judicial Watch , which is a nonprofit based in Washington DC.
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