MARCH 30, 2012
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) only takes action against a “small portion” of foreigners who overstay their visa—like several of the 9/11 terrorists—and allows hundreds of thousands to enter the United States without proper authorization under a provision that already relaxes scrutiny for dozens of countries.
It gets better. When congressional investigators demanded answers from the agency, officials said they had not yet completed a review of the cases to determine the extent of the risk. Your government at work! It’s as if nothing has been learned from the 2001 terrorist attacks, when security was so lax that Middle Eastern extremists slipped right through to plan their plot from inside the country.
Outlined in an investigative congressional report, these lapses are of special concern. The first involves foreigners who enter the U.S. from 36 countries that have special visa waiver agreements with Uncle Sam. They still need authorization, though the system is more lax than a typical visa process. Foreigners must comply with a special DHS Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) that requires them to submit biographical information and answer eligibility questions before traveling.
While most of the visitors comply with the requirements, an estimated 2% don’t, according to the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress. That translates into 364,000 travelers a year, investigators found. Additionally, only half of the countries that have visa waiver agreements with the U.S. are fully compliant. The GAO points out in this latest report that it has published five others addressing the same subject yet little has been done to improve security.
It’s almost as if the monstrous agency created after the 2001 terrorist attacks to protect the nation is blowing off Congress. This theory appears to be supported by the DHS’s handling of visa over stayers. If you recall, several of the 9/11 hijackers entered the U.S. with valid visas but simply never left. This should be an area of deep concern for the DHS, though it doesn’t appear to be.
In the course of their probe, GAO investigators found that federal agencies only take action against a “small portion” of the estimated 4 to 5.5 million who overstay their visa. Why is that? Because the specialized Homeland Security unit charged with cracking down on visa violators has “competing priorities.” As baffling as this may seem, it’s all in the report. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Counterterrorism and Criminal Exploitation Unit is too busy with other matters, though it has “expressed an intention to augment its overstay enforcement resources,” according to the GAO.
Visa overstays have been a problem for the government for some time, even before 9/11. Last year a federal audit revealed that nearly half of the nation’s estimated 12 million illegal immigrants actually entered the U.S. legally but never left after their visa expired.
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