DHS admits it does not know who overstays visas

crime | Jul 12, 2017 | By Martin Barillas

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) chaired a hearing on Wednesday by the Senate subcommittee on border security concerning border security and visa overstays. On the panel were Republican senators Jeff Flake of Arizona, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, and Democrat senators Dick Durbin of Illinois and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. Testifying were Acting Assistant Secretary for Department of Homeland Security Michael Dougherty, Department of Homeland Security Inspector General John Roth, Deputy Assistant Commissioner U.S. Customs and Border Protection John P. Wagner, and DHS-ICE Deputy Assistant Director - Homeland Security Investigations Louis A. Rodi.

At the onset of the hearing, Cornyn said besides the numbers of illegal aliens who enter the national territory, a vulnerability to appears to be overlooked are persons who remain longer than permitted by the terms of their visas. These visa-overstays are: “people who enter our country legally and then who overstay their visa and simply melt into the great American landscape.” Expressing frustration, Cornyn said, “As I think about it, while I understand the desire of people coming from other countries perhaps to emigrate to the US because of economic or security conditions, it is almost more offensive to me that people come into our country legally and inspite of the courtesy that we demonstrate by allowing them to come in temporarily, they exploit that and violate our immigration laws.” 

Continuing, Cornyn said, “We have to take steps to stem the tide of visa overstays and restore some order out of chaos when it comes to this flaw in our immigration system.” “Border security,” said Cornyn, “is more than just admitting people to the US. It starts with identifying the right people before they leave their home country to come to the US knowing once they are here and ensuring that they depart when the terms of their visas expire.” To this end, he expressed satisfaction that the number of apprehensions by DHS has increased.

After hearing testimony from the various DHS officials, Cornyn examined DHS Deputy Assistant Director for investigations Louis A. Rodi. Cornyn said that there are approximately 739,000 visa overstays who have come through land or seaports. However, he said that there is no record of visa overstays from land-based ports of entry such as airports, when about 8 million people enter the country annually. He asked Rodi how those 7329,000 people can be identified. He asked, “And what do we need to do in order to make sure that we’re enforcing the terms of their visa and entry into the country and exit on a timely basis?” He said, “My impression, Mr. Rodi...is we won’t do that unless they, let’s say for example commit an offense and get arrested. That would be one way to identify yourself as a visa overstay, right? 

Rodi said that his agency relies on databases generated by law enforcement agencies who arrest and/or jail foreign nationals. These produce “leads” that are followed up by immigration enforcement agents.

Finally, Sen. Blumenthal asked “Are detainers issued for all of the overstays? Because the chairman implied that one of the reasons why sanctuary cities may in his view pose a potential threat is that they are not enforcing detainers. I’m wondering: these detainers don’t apply to overstays? You don’t issue a detainer for those 700,000-plus people who have overstayed?” 

Louis A. Rodi answered, “No, sir. The visa overstays that we would be investigating for the leads that we send out: if one of these people that we are investigating happens to be in custody somewhere, then yes, we would send out a detainer notice so that we can deal with them appropriately upon release. But the vast majority of the overstays that we are investigating are not in custody, so we’re not sending out.”

Rodi, when pressed by Blumenthal, admitted that only a tiny fractions of persons overstaying their visas are arrested and receive ICE detainers. Blumenthal paraphrased Cornyn, who he said made the claim that the vast majority of persons overstaying their visas “‘melt into the great American landscape.’” Blumenthal then said, “Then they are good to go, good to stay, so long as they don’t get into trouble and find themselves arrested for doing something else, whether it is robbing a bank, going through a red light, or something that brings them into court. Is that roughly correct?”

Rodi said that his agency only sends out detainers for overstays who have been deemed to threaten national security or public safety. “So that number is low in comparison to the overall overstay population.”

Senator John Cornyn's Introduction:

Watch the entire hearing:



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Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat and the editor of Spero News.

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