May 28, 2013
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) cannot find 266 potentially dangerous foreign nationals who have overstayed their visas, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
According to testimony from Rebecca Gambler, director of the Homeland Security and Justice for GAO, on May 21, 2013 before the House Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security, DHS identified 1,901 illegal overstays of concern in 2011. As of March 2013, 14 percent remain missing.
The 1,901 cases were reprioritized for further investigation by DHS “because the subjects of the records could pose national security or public safety concerns.”
Of those that pose security threats, 266 could not be located, and nine individuals had been arrested.
The report said 481 (25.3 percent) of the cases were given to Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) division, because they presented “potential public safety threats.” ERO is “responsible for identifying and apprehending aliens who are subject to removal from the country, detaining these individuals when necessary, and removing aliens subject to removal from the United States.”
Also, 302 (15.9 percent) of the illegal overstays were in the process of changing their status to continue living in the U.S., and 711 (37.4 percent) had left the country.
The findings are based on a DHS review of a backlog of 1.6 million overstays in the summer of 2011. According to the report, 863,000 cases were removed, having found that the individuals left the country or were in legal status.
Visa overstays pose a significant national security risk, according to Gambler, since one-fourth of the terrorists who carried out 9/11 were in the country illegally, overstaying their visas.
“We have reported that most overstays are likely motivated by economic opportunities to stay in the United States beyond their authorized periods of admission,” Gambler said. “However, overstays could pose homeland security concerns—for example, 5 of the 19 September 11, 2001, hijackers were overstays.”
Other examples include, Hosam Smadi, a Jordanian national, who overstayed his visa and plotted to blow up a Dallas skyscraper in 2009, and Amine El Khalifi, a Moroccan who was living past his visa since 1999 and was arrested for plotting to bomb the U.S. Capitol last year.
The GAO testimony also revealed that there are currently more than 1 million “unmatched arrival records” in the DHS’s Arrival and Departure Information System (ADIS), or potential cases where immigrants have remained in the country with expired visas.
Furthermore, DHS has failed to report to Congress on visa overstays, as required by law, due to a lack of “confidence in the quality of its overstay data.” DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano has said, however, that her agency plans to report on overstay rates by December 2013.