What comes to mind when you hear the words “illegal immigrant”?
According to a report released on May 22 by the U.S. Homeland Security Department, nearly 740,000 people who came by air or ship stayed past their visas during a recent 12-month period.
This confirms a report earlier this year from the Center for Migration Studies that more people joined the illegal immigrant population by remaining in the United States after their temporary tourist, student, or work visas expire — rather than by illegal border crossings. Roughly 40 percent of the 11 million undocumented workers in the United States are foreigners who arrived legally and simply never left.
Visa overstays accounted for less than 1.5 percent of the 50.4 million visitors who arrived by plane or ship during a recent 12-month period, the U.S. Homeland Security Department said. The report includes people who arrived in the United States by plane or boat, but not ground border crossings.
President Donald Trump vowed during last year’s campaign to finish building a system to record when visitors leave the country by using biometric identifiers, like facial or iris scans, but he has focused much of his attention on building a wall and hiring more border agents. The proposed wall — at a cost estimated to be as high as $25 billion — would not address people who arrive legally.
Homeland Security last year published the number of overstays for the first time in at least two decades, saying 527,127 people who came by air or ship stayed past their visas from October 2014 to September 2015.
This year’s report added student and foreign exchange visitors and many visa categories for temporary workers, while last year’s only counted business travelers and tourists. Homeland Security said it will make additional improvements in future reports, including more data on people who cross by land.
Canada occupied the top slot for overstays among business travelers and tourists, followed by Mexico, Brazil, Venezuela, and the United Kingdom.
And China had the largest number of student overstays, followed by Saudi Arabia, South Korea, India, and Brazil. Two of the Sept. 11 hijackers were student visa overstays.
Trump’s revised executive order temporarily banning travel from six terrorism-prone, Muslim-majority countries contains some language related to combating visa overstays.
The United States certainly needs to get control of its borders. But while Trump wrings his hands about immigration, he should remember that many people are here illegally simply because the government hasn’t come up with a way to keep track of them.