During his confirmation hearing for head of the Department of Homeland Security, retired Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly suggested that authorities visit the homes of people overstaying their visas.
Democratic Sen. Jon Tester initiated the discussion Tuesday, when he asked how exactly Kelly intended to handle the problem of people entering the country on visas and then simply refusing to leave.
As Tester noted at the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, while there are certain of bureaucratic steps to complete in order to gain entrance to the U.S., once here, the federal government does not possess a solid tracking system to keep tabs on when those visas expire and whether those people have left the country.
“How do you anticipate to make it work when those visas expires—to be able to notify those folks that, ‘Time to head back?'” Tester asked.
“To the degree I’ve been in discussions on this point, apparently we don’t have a particularly good system to kind of alert when the day after someone’s visa expires,” Kelly said. “We don’t have a very good system to say this person’s visa expired and to share that information, whether it’s within the department, for sure, and then local law enforcement.”
“So the discussions I’ve had is that we’ve got to do better with systems, first of all alerting us that someone has stayed past and then as appropriate perhaps send someone to their house or last known residence and ask them why they haven’t departed yet,” Kelly added.
After much pressure from Congress, the DHS produced in February 2016 — for the first time ever — a rough estimate on the number of visa overstays in the U.S. Out of 45 million people who traveled to the U.S. on tourist and business visas in fiscal year 2015, approximately 416,500 did not leave the country on their visa’s end date.
The report was incredibly limited in scope and could not say whether visa overstays were growing or shrinking.
Moreover, the report did not cover student visas or temporary worker visas. And the report also failed to track data based on land arrivals from Canada or Mexico.
Although the problem of overstays has been bandied about by Congress since the 1990s, the federal government still failed to remedy the issue with adequate tracking and enforcement systems.
Out of the 483,000 who overstayed as of Sept. 30, 2015, immigration agents only investigated 0.2 percent of cases and made arrests in only 0.04 percent of cases.
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