Chaffetz: Failure to Track Visa Overstays ‘Biggest Gaping Hole We Have On Our Border’

June 27, 2013 - 4:44 PM

Jason Chaffetz

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), (CNSNews.com/Penny Starr)

(CNSNews.com) – A top official with Customs and Border Protection admitted at a hearing on Thursday that the government does not track when or whether people who are issued a visa exit the country, which Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) called “the biggest gaping hole we have on our border.”

“It’s probably the biggest gaping hole we have on our border,” Chaffetz, chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform’s Subcommittee on National Security said. “There’s no tracking.”

“We track what comes in. It’s what’s going out that right now we need to get a better handle on,” Mike Murphy, acting assistant commissioner at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Field Operations, told Chaffetz.

Chaffetz questioned Murphy about what entry and exit program the government uses to track visa bearers.

“When you say better handle, do you track any of them going out?” Chaffetz asked.

David Murphy

David Murphy, acting assistant commissioner with U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Office of Field Operations, testified at a House hearing on June 27, 2013. (CNSNews.com/Penny Starr)

“Well, right now our outbound operations are basically geared towards intelligence, pulse and surge operations, and…” Murphy said.

“That’s not what I asked you. I asked…” Chaffetz said.

“I know sir. No, we don’t,” Murphy replied.

“We’re letting millions of people, roughly almost one million a day, into the country. We have no idea how many are going out. Is that fair to say?” Chaffetz asked.

“Yes, sir,” Murphy said.

According to the State Department, in fiscal year 2011, 4.3 million visas were issued.

Chaffetz said it was current law that the U.S. is supposed to have an entry/exit program.

“Why don’t we have an exit program?” Chaffetz asked Murphy.

“We’re working on it, sir,” Murphy replied.

“Mr. Murphy testified that they don’t track any of the exit numbers – none of them,” said Chaffetz. “So we have absolutely zero information about who may be overstaying.

“It’s probably the biggest gaping hole we have on our border,” Chaffetz said. “There’s no tracking.

“There’s no information. There’s no statistics. There’s no field report – there’s nothing unless that person commits a crime.” Chaffetz said.

Rebecca Gambler, director of homeland security and justice at the Government Accountability Office, testified that the only VISA holders who face investigation from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are those who are identified through interaction with law enforcement.

“If a foreign national enters the U.S. and there is no corresponding departure record for that person, that record would be checked against numerous DHS databases and would be prioritized against ICE’s law enforcement and public safety priorities,” Gambler said. “If the person met those priorities, their information, their record would be sent forward for investigation to ICE field offices.”

Overstays that “ICE prioritizes for investigation are those who meet their public safety and national security priorities,” Gambler said.

It’s estimated that 40 percent of the 11 million or more illegal aliens living in the United States entered the country legally with a visa but overstayed the date for departure, according to Numbers USA, a conservative immigration reform group.

Several of the 9/11 hijackers who killed thousands of people in New York, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania had overstayed their visas.