It is well known among immigration scholars that the majority of undocumented residents enter the U.S. legally (on a tourist or student visa, for instance) and simply overstay their visas. This was a great concern after Sept. 11, 2001, because the hijackers had entered the U.S. legally. From a security and immigration standpoint, therefore, it would make sense for the Department of Homeland Security to set up an immigrant exit tracking system to ascertain that people are leaving the U.S. when they should. It would also be a means to apprehend other unauthorized immigrants; right now, there are no official checks for anyone leaving the U.S., so if you are undocumented and want to go home, you simply have to buy an airline ticket and leave.
It appears that DHS did have a plan in the works, US-VISIT, to confirm the exit of people who are supposed to be leaving the U.S. when their visas expire. That effort has been abandoned.
As the Washington Post reported this morning:
US-VISIT is designed to detect criminals, suspected terrorists and visitors whose visas have expired by recording travelers’ fingerprints and digital photographs when they enter and exit the United States. Having spent $1.7 billion since 2003, Department of Homeland Security officials say they have successfully recorded 61 million people entering the country through 115 airports, 15 seaports and 154 of 170 land ports.
But they cannot build an exit tracking system without spending “tens of billions” of dollars more and an additional five to 10 years developing the technology.
The program would also cause major traffic tie-ups at land crossing points. We simply cannot try to enforce our temporary visas; it would be too inconvenient and expensive. Keep in mind we spend “tens of billions” every month in Iraq.
For those of you who read here regularly, you know that I strongly believe that the reason why we do not have an effective immigration policy is simply because we do not want to have one. This is further evidence of that.