By Jim Kouri
A number of representatives from watchdog groups, government agencies and the U.S. Congress are intensifying their criticism of the Obama Administration’s handling of illegal immigration and the Department of Homeland Security’s shortcomings in policing the immigration and visa system.
For example, the successful and well-known “Inside the Beltway” watchdog group — that’s respected by those who seek justice and feared by those involved in political or government corruption — posted a special April 1 blog entry alleging another Obama Administration failure involving the U.S.’s out-of-control visitors visa system.
According to Judicial Watch’s Corruption Chronicles, the Department of Homeland Security 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.
When investigators from the Government Accountability Office demanded answers from the DHS, officials there said they had not yet completed a review of the cases to determine the extent of the risk.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 previous reports 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 overstays. 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,” said the JW blogger.
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.
The House of Representatives’ Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security, chaired by Rep. Candice Miller (R-MI), held a hearing entitled “From the 9/11 Hijackers to Amine el-Khalifi: Terrorists and the Visa Overstay Problem” last week, according to officials from the National Association of Chiefs of Police (NACOP).
“This important hearing examined the track record of the Department of Homeland Security to secure the U.S. borders through the passport and visa system. It also addressed the challenges U.S. law enforcement faces in identifying individuals who overstay their visas — specifically those individuals who entered the U.S. prior to implementation of post-9/11 reforms,” said a Michigan police commander, Maj. George Thompson.
According to a DOJ press statement released last month, a 29 year-old Moroccan man, Amine el-Khalifi, was arrested by FBI agents for plotting to detonate a bomb during a suicide attack on the U.S. Capitol Building. El-Khalifi entered the United States in 1999 on a tourist visa that expired later that year, but remained undetected in the United States illegally since that time.
“This hearing gives [committee] members the opportunity to examine how gaps and vulnerabilities in the visa and immigration system have been addressed in the 10 years since 9/11, and review what deficiencies in tracking visa overstays remain,” said Rep. Miller in a press statement.
A Government Accountability Office study reveals that U.S. border security efforts have been focused on securing the nation’s northern and southern borders. However, more than 40 percent of all illegal aliens do not sneak across the northern and southern borders, but enter the U.S. legally through the front door and then never leave in spite of their visa expiration.