By Joe Guzzardi
January 6, 2016
The United States is in its third decade without the federal government implementing a congressionally mandated entry-exit system which would help protect the nation from terrorism and dramatically reduce illegal immigration. The shocking failures came to light when U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) asked Department of Homeland Security assistant secretary for international affairs Alan Bersin how many foreign nationals overstay their visas every year. Bersin reluctantly admitted: “We don’t know.”
The 9/11 Commission determined that an entry-exit program is “fundamental to intercepting terrorists,” and a vital tool for national security. Two of the 9/11 murderers, Satam al-Suqami and Nawaf al-Hazmi, were in the U.S. on expired visas. al Suqami was one of the five terrorists that commandeered American Airlines Flight 11 into the North World Trade Center Tower; al-Hazmi helped crash American Flight 77 into the Pentagon. Despite the obvious need to know who’s in the country, numerous implementation deadlines have passed. DHS has also ignored dozens of other 9/11 Commission recommendations.
Entry-exit verification was first included in the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, and reiterated various times in Congress. The 2002 visa tracking law required that an integrated biometric database be established so that the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security would have real-time access to law enforcement, immigration, and intelligence information on every alien who seeks admission to the U. S. Congress and DHS have renewed demands for action in various forms in 2004, 2007, 2008, and 2009. But since the required nine-member oversight commission still hasn’t been assembled, only the slightest progress has been made on biometric identification, an essential security component. Bersin promised Meadows an updated overstay report within six months, but critics noted that guarantees have been made and broken for years including former DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano’s early 2013 unfulfilled pledge to file a similar review by that year’s end.
Absent an entry-exit system, analysts can only guesstimate what the visa overstay total is. A recent Wall Street Journal story put the number at 40 to 50 percent which, if accurate, would mean that roughly 4.8 to 6 million of the assumed 12 million illegal immigrants have violated their visas’ terms. For example, Enrique Marquez Jr., suspected of purchasing the guns used in the San Bernardino massacre, has been charged with entering into a phony 2014 marriage to Russian Mariya Chernykh who first came to the U.S. on a J-1 visa. Chernykh remained in the U.S. illegally for six years after her three month visa expired.
The Obama administration’s excuses for not advancing entry-exit are dumbfounding. Among the reasons offered are that the airline and tourism industries have balked (profits over safety), some overstays are on H-1B visas or are students, the so called best and brightest (some visa violators are okay, others not so much), and technology has not advanced enough to create dependable biometrics (the daily baseball scores are available on wristwatches, but iris scans are impossible?) Three dozen countries in Europe, Asia and Africa collect biometrics.
Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama—two Democrats and a Republican—have ignored entry-exit implementation. The best hope for true security may come with a new president and a new Congress. But given past administrations’ failed track records, Americans shouldn’t get their hopes up.
Joe Guzzardi is a Californians for Population Stabilization Senior Writing Fellow. Contact him at [email protected]