Fifteen years after Islamic terrorists exploited the U.S. government’s inept method of tracking visa overstays, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) still uses an antiquated system that doesn’t have the capability to get the job done. This allows foreign individuals, who may “pose severe national security risks” to remain in the country, according to a federal audit that for unknown reasons was yanked from the public domain. A 45-page report was issued this month by the DHS Inspector General and Judicial Watch reviewed it thoroughly before the watchdog mysteriously pulled it from its website. Judicial Watch has repeatedly reached out to the DHS IG’s office but has received no response. Here’s the link that went bad as also noted by a few other outlets.
To be sure, the findings are an embarrassment to the government because visa overstays have been a major national security issue for well over a decade. Several of the 9/11 hijackers remained in the U.S. after their visa expired to plan and carry out the worst terrorist attack on American soil. A few years after the 2001 attacks Congress launched a system that was supposed to take care of the problem by tracking the entry and exit of foreign nationals with electronically scanned fingerprints and photographs. But five years and $1 billion later, the system, U.S. Visitor and Immigration Status Indicator Technology (US VISIT), still had serious flaws. A few years later the investigative arm of Congress, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), published a report confirming that nearly half of the nation’s illegal aliens entered the U.S. legally and overstayed their visas undetected. In the years that followed the government did little to improve what has developed into a dire national security disaster. In 2011 yet another federal audit confirmed that the U.S. had lost track of millions who overstayed their visas and two years later the crisis intensified when DHS lost track of 266 dangerous foreigners with expired visas. The government determined that they “could pose a national security or public safety concerns,” according to the director of Homeland Security and Justice at the GAO.
Just last year Judicial Watch obtained DHS figures showing that more than half a million foreigners with expired visas—like the 9/11 jihadists—remained in the country, thousands of them from terrorist nations like Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Libya and Syria. More than 45,000 Mexicans overstayed their visa, according to the DHS records, and thousands more from El Salvador, Ecuador, Venezuela and China. The visas are granted for “business or pleasure” and the foreigners come via sea or air port of entry. For nearly a decade a number of federal audits have offered the alarming figures associated with visa overstays, including one released back in 2011 that estimates half of the nation’s illegal immigrants entered legally with visas.
This month’s DHS IG report exposes the disturbing reality that the U.S. government has done nothing to prevent another terrorist attack by dangerous elements that remain in the country with an expired visa. Many fall through the cracks because Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the DHS agency responsible for the task, must piece together information from dozens of systems and databases that aren’t reliable. The problem is so out of control that ICE must depend on often sketchy data provided by third parties such as commercial carrier passenger lists that often provide false visitor departure and arrival information. “Such false departure information resulted in [Enforcement and Removal Operations] officers closing visa overstay investigations of dangerous individuals, such as suspected criminals, who were actually still in the United States and could pose a threat to national security,” according to the DHS IG report. “For example, [a deportation] officer stated that a suspect under investigation was listed as having left the country, but had given his ticket to a family member and was still residing in the United States.”
Here are the overall figures that illustrate how bad the problem is; of more than half a million visa overstays identified by the DHS watchdog, a mere 3,402 were caught by federal authorities. It gets better. The various unreliable databases that ICE uses also provided inaccurate information on the 0.4% that got busted, according to the report. “In some cases, the individuals arrested had been reported in DHS systems as having already left the United States,” the report states. “Because this information was not recorded, ICE personnel were unable to provide an exact number when asked during our audit.”
In 2015, the U.S. issued nearly 11 million visas and, though only a small percentage overstay, they pose serious national security risks, the watchdog found. As an example, the report mentions the 9/11 hijackers who overstayed their visa. “This prompted the 9/11 Commission to call for the government to ensure that all visitors to the United States are tracked on entry and exit,” DHS investigators remind. Instead, there is a backlog of 1.2 million expired visa cases, the report says.