Hearing on Visa Overstays Yields More Questions Than Answers

Susan Jones | March 15, 2016 | 12:09pm EDT
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(AP File Photo)

(CNSNews.com) - With 523,000 visa overstays a year, why can't the federal government do a better job of tracking people who don't leave the country when their time is up? Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) asked Obama administration officials on Tuesday.

The bureaucrats who testified before the Senate Homeland Security Committee couldn't even say which type of visas are most often abused by people who don't leave the country when they are supposed to.

"I'm not sure I've seen a figure on any particular area," David Donahue, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs at the State Department, said. "I really don't know."

Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Sarah Saldana, asked about visa categories that are most often abused, offered "an educated -- I think -- guess."

"The most visas we have are B1s and B2s, travelers for business or pleasure," she said. "So I would think there would be some correlation between that and the number of overstays."

"I don't understand what's so hard about keeping track of this," Johnson said.

He noted that everyone who comes into the U.S. legally has a passport with a number attached to it, which is entered into a database. The senator wondered what is so hard about linking the passport number to a specific visa, which would allow visa overstays to pop up on a computer screen with the push of a button.

"It's just numbers," Johnson said. "To me, that's an incredibly simple database to manage."

Homeland Security Department Inspector General John Roth told Johnson that it's "very, very difficult" for the federal government to build "these kind of information systems."

"And I think there has been some effort to try to get an exit system that has not been successful. So I think as a federal government, we are aware of the problem but we have not been able to do a solution," Roth said.

"Would you agree with me (that) in the private secctor, this would almost be like falling off a log -- to develop a database like this?" Johnson asked.

"Yes," Roth replied.

"Which begs the question, why can't we do this after ten years, in the federal government," Johnson said. "Unbelievable."

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