Lawmaker Grills Border Protection Official on Efforts to Track 40 Percent of Illegal Aliens with Expired Visas

By Penny Starr | February 27, 2013 | 3:56 PM EST

Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.) grilled a Department of Homeland Security official about tracking illegal aliens who have overstayed their VISA at a House hearing on Feb. 26, 2013. ( Starr)

( – At a hearing on Tuesday to determine the security status of U.S. borders, a GOP lawmaker grilled a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) official on efforts to track down people who have overstayed their visa when 40 percent of the illegal aliens in the country fall into that category.

“Mr. McAleenan, if I were a could-be terrorist, and I flew into the Harrisburg International Airport or Des Moines, Iowa, airport and didn’t leave after my visa expired, how would you find me?” Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.), a member of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security, asked Kevin McAleenan, acting assistant commissioner in the Office of Field Operations for CBP.

“So we’re assuming this individual is not known to the intelligence community or law enforcement as a potential terrorist?” McAleenan asked.

“That’s correct,” Barletta said.

“Okay, that’s a multi-agency effort. First of all we would use the biographic information transmitted to CBP, called the advanced passenger information system, which would tell us who they are, when they’ve arrived, a record of their crossing date. We would work with U.S. Visit in Immigration and Customs Enforcement to determine whether they left on time. That’s a biographic exit effort,” McAleenan said.

“If I could just interrupt you one second please – then how would we have 40 percent of the people in the country illegally, whose visas have expired, why haven’t we been able to do that?” Barletta asked.

“I think this is an acknowledged area, representative, where we need to improve, and we’ve been improving over the last several years,” McAleenan responded.

“That’s exactly my point, because you see some of the 9/11 – and you know this – some of the 9/11 terrorists overstayed their visas. In fact, one of the 9/11 terrorists was granted amnesty in 1986. He said he was an agricultural worker and was granted amnesty and later was one of the masterminds to that,” Barletta said.

Kevin McAleenan, acting assistant commissioner of the Office of Field Operations with the Department of Homeland Security's U.S. Customs and Border Protection, testified at a House hearing on Feb. 26, 2013. ( Starr)

Barletta told the panel of witnesses, which included Michael Fisher, the chief of CBP, that not all threats come from people crossing borders but includes every state with an international airport.

“Any state that has an international airport is a border state,” Barletta said. “Any state with an international airport is a border state.

“Forty percent of the people that are in the country illegally didn’t cross a border,” Barletta said. “They came here on a visa. The visa expired, and they disappeared into the system, and we can’t find them.”

Barletta noted that Tuesday marked the 20th anniversary of the 1993 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center that killed six people and injured about 1,000 others.

“We are a long way from secure borders, and it should be a reminder to everyone here in Congress that we don’t replace the carpet in our homes while we still have a hole in our roof,” Barletta said.