CAPS — Most of the discussion about stopping illegal immigration focuses on what we should do to control the border, and that usually refers to our southern border with Mexico. This focus misses a key reality, namely that an estimated 40 percent to 60 percent of illegal aliens now residing in the United States did not sneak across the border to get here. In fact, they arrived with temporary legal visas. They became illegal residents when they overstayed those visas and failed to return home.
And what is the government doing about this situation? Two decades of neglect tell the story. In 1996, Congress recognized the problem of visa overstays and authorized laws to establish a biometric entry-exit tracking system. Biometrics include fingerprints and other personal identity markers which can’t be altered. Little followed from these laws.
The issue came up again after the 9/11 terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in the U.S., when it came to light that some of the attackers were illegal aliens, having overstayed visas. The 9/11 Commission Report stated that a biometric entry-exit system was “fundamental to intercepting terrorists.” Again, not much happened.
In 2004, Congress passed legislation directing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to move forward with the entry-exit project. It was delayed repeatedly. In 2007, Congress told DHS to have the system up and running by 2009. When that deadline passed, there was nothing to show but a few pilot projects.