In testimony to Congress Tuesday, it was admitted that at least 480,000 people in the US overstayed their visas last year, adding to a backlog of visa overstays that is now at least 5 MILLION total. However, immigration agents have only investigated about 10,000 of them, and arrested less than 2,000. They say the rest don’t reach priority levels.
This report does NOT include those who come to the US on student or work visa.
Craig Healy, assistant director for national security investigations at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, struggled to defend their efforts, saying, “We utilize our prioritization scheme along with the resources that we have.” He blames the issue on a shortage of funding and limited information, where it takes months to find out if someone really did overstay their visa, and then they must decide if they are a serious enough offender to even go after.
Reportedly, the Obama administration deported 12,500 overstays in 2009, but just 6,800 in 2012 and only 2,500 in 2015.
“By deporting such a small percentage of the visa overstayers, the message they are sending wide and far is just get into the country, if you’re not convicted of a serious crime, [and] you’re going to be allowed to stay. You’re gonna pass go; you’re gonna get the money,” said Rep. Lamar Smith, of Texas. “That is the wrong message to send because it increases more illegal immigration.”
Visa overstays are not given as much attention, because they enter the country legally, then are mostly left on their own. And they come from around the globe. The Pew Research Center said Canadians were the largest group of offenders, accounting for nearly a fifth. Mexico, Brazil, Germany and Italy rounded out the top five.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a Texas Democrat, said at least, in recent years, the visa overstay illegals haven’t been implicated in major terrorist attacks, defending the low priority given to tracking them down.
However, a number of the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers were overstays, prompting the 9/11 Commission to call for the government to complete a tracking system so all visitors to the U.S. are tracked on entry and exit. The entry system works, but the government does not have a complete working exit system.
The Department of Homeland Security was created after the 2001 attack, and John Wagner, deputy assistant commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said he thinks the department is now in a position where it could have spotted those attackers ahead of time.
“I believe we would have identified them, yes, with the systems that are in place now and the measures in place now. I believe so,” he testified to the House Committee on Homeland Security.
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