With most of the United States’ Immigration and Customs Enforcement resources going to stopping the fence jumpers at the southern border, one portion of the illegal immigrant population that is getting less and less attention is the millions – about 5 million estimated – of aliens who have overstayed their visas. Stephen Dinan of the Washington Times tells us that according to Congressional testimony this week, this issue is well known to ICE, and to an extent is a source of frustration for the agency since the people are known to the government, but due to resource allocations, tracking and deporting visa overstayers takes a back seat to illegals involved in additional crime:
At least 480,000 people overstayed their visas last year, adding to a backlog that’s reached some 5 million total, members of Congress said. But immigration agents launched investigations into just 10,000 of them, or about 0.2 percent, and arrested fewer than 2,000, less than 0.04 percent, saying the others don’t rise to the level of being priority targets.
“We utilize our prioritization scheme along with the resources that we have,” Craig Healy, assistant director for national security investigations at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said as he struggled to defend the administration’s meager efforts.
He blamed a shortage of funding and a tricky environment, where authorities only have limited information, and it takes them months to decide if someone really did overstay their visa and if they are deemed serious enough offenders to make an effort to go after.
There is some sympathy for prioritizing federal attention according to the criminal conduct – other than being an illegal alien in the first place – but some lawmakers see ICE as excusing their record using “lack of funding” as a sort of excuse.
Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas Republican, said the Obama administration has increasingly lost sight of the problem, deporting some 12,500 overstays in 2009, but just 6,800 in 2012 and only 2,500 last year — or less than one out of every 2,000.
Which is, actually, the inverse of the fence jumper prosecutions by the numbers. However, Rep. Smith makes a good point when he says:
“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,” Mr. Smith said. “That is the wrong message to send because it increases more illegal immigration.”
Overstays are not like other categories of illegal aliens. Prior to their arrival in the United States, they would have had some measure of background check and would have been approved for admittance. The majority of these people are not criminals, however, a visa does have an expiration date, and once a person stays beyond that date, their presence in the country is, in fact, illegal. Those who overstay do not hail from a concentrated locale like the fence jumpers who are largely from central America and Mexico, but are from everywhere, including the hotbeds of terrorism.
After years of delay, Homeland Security officials in January released a report detailing part of the problem. Of the nearly 50 million business and tourist visas issued, about 1 percent — or 500,000 — remained even after their permission expired in 2015.
Canadians were the largest group of offenders, accounting for nearly a fifth. Mexico, Brazil, Germany and Italy rounded out the top five, the Pew Research Center said.
One of the many reasons why non-criminal overstayers do not receive a lot of scrutiny is because they are more likely to self-deport, or achieve some other sort of immigration status, eventually, to the tune of 40% who are pursued by ICE. Given that the countries with the two highest levels of overstaying visas are from our direct neighbors, that course of action does have its appeal, but the US should not count on illegal visa overstayers taking that route. Several of the 9-11 hijackers overstayed their visas. This prompted the 9-11 Commission to call for a tracking system for entry and exit. The entry system works The exit system not so much.
Homeland Security officials said they regularly scan the visa lists for security risks and rely on information being fed from the intelligence community to figure out whom to target for extra scrutiny.
Sleeper cells aren’t likely to trip any wires, and it has been well established that other nations’ intelligence communities are not always perfectly honest with the US when it comes to information on sketchy individuals.
At this time, there is a backlog of 95,000 names of people who cannot be located or who are not considered to be priority. With 10,000 investigations opening last year alone, ICE has a lot of work ahead of them.