U.S. Visit Program

Almost half of illegal aliens entered U.S. legally, but overstayed visas: Senators say


- Jim Kouri
Thursday, May 19, 2011

This population is of grave concern to law enforcement officials. Five of the 9/11 hijackers overstayed their visas, and GAO found that 36 of the roughly 400 people convicted of terrorism-related charges since September 2001 had overstayed their visas. - GAO Report to U.S. Senate

Almost half of all illegal aliens in the United States entered legally and then remained here after their visas expired, but the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) ability to track immigrants who stay past their visa expiration date is severely limited, according to a new report released by Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman (ID-CT) and Ranking Member Susan Collins (R-ME).

The Senators cited a recent report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) revealed 40-45 percent of the estimated total population of illegal aliens—4 to 5 million people—stayed past their visa expiration dates. But DHS’ U.S. VISIT program—which is supposed to identify people who overstay their visas by comparing entry and exit information—cannot keep up with the number of potential overstays it identifies by matching entry and exit records.

In fact, US-VISIT processes less than half of the potential overstays it identifies, and GAO found that the program has a backlog of 1.6 million potential overstay records. Once a potential overstay has been identified, the information is provided to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which devotes just 3 percent of its investigative man-hours to tracking down immigrants whose visas have expired.

This population is of grave concern to law enforcement officials. Five of the 9/11 hijackers overstayed their visas, and GAO found that 36 of the roughly 400 people convicted of terrorism-related charges since September 2001 had overstayed their visas.

“Despite numerous congressional and DHS efforts, we still lack an exit system that will effectively identify people who have overstayed their visas, and do so in real time,