The Department of Homeland Security says some 630,000 legally admitted visitors last year overstayed their welcome. That would mean 99 percent of foreign visitors departed the U.S. on time, according to the agency.
The problem is bigger. Much bigger.
No one knows the exact number of visa overstays in the country, due to government’s ongoing failure to properly track and coordinate entry/exit data. DHS’s own Office of Inspector General admits the agency cannot accurately account for overstays in the figures it reports to Congress.
By law, visa overstay reports are required annually. This year’s report was only the second to be produced in the past two decades.
Into the void steps the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. In Philadelphia v. Sessions – a case in which the city contested the Justice Department’s denial of federal funding for failing to cooperate with U.S. immigration agents – new light was shed on visa overstays.
The court declared that “roughly half” of America’s illegal immigrant population – estimated at or over 12 million — is made up of visa overstayers.
The court went on to criticize lax interior enforcement.
“Although Congress has enacted laws that allow civil proceedings to deport any undocumented alien, the record of the case establishes that our federal government, for decades, with both Democratic or Republican presidents, has taken no steps whatsoever to deport visa overstayers or aliens who entered unlawfully and without being arrested. All deportation efforts, from World War II to the present time, have focused on ‘criminal aliens.’”
Piling on, the court concluded, “There has been virtually no enforcement action whatsoever to deport visa overstayers,..”
The Center for Migration Studies recently reported “that two-thirds of those who arrived in 2014 did not illegally cross a border, but were admitted (after screening) on non-immigrant (temporary) visas, and then overstayed their period of admission or otherwise violated the terms of their visas.”
CMS forecast that this will “likely continue into the foreseeable future.”
Last week, the Trump administration announced it is cracking down on 38 countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program, which allows U.S. visits without a visa for up to 90 days.
Yet an even bigger problem comes from non-VWP countries, whose overstay rates are two and three times higher. Among the worst offenders: 13 percent of the visitors from Afghanistan overstayed their visas and 11 percent from Iraq overstayed. The highest rates of overstays were from African nations, where up to one in four visitors overstayed their tourist or business visas.
Earlier this year, John Wagner, deputy executive assistant commissioner for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, told a House Homeland Security panel that his agency was “out of time and out of excuses” on visa overstays.