System not in place to track visitors in U.S. overstaying visas

“A robust visa exit system that will prevent terrorists from successfully exploiting the visa process” needs to come online as soon as possible – Rep Candice Miller.

The federal government does not have a working system to track and deport millions of foreign visitors who overstay their visas, despite warnings that followed the 9/11 terrorist attacks that such overstays pose a threat to homeland security.

However, Obama administration officials assured a House panel Tuesday that the nation’s first biometric data system will be put into operation within weeks.

“Clearly more must be done to ensure the security of the visa system, including enhancements to Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s ability to identify and promptly remove those who overstay their visa,” said Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.), who chairs the House Homeland Security subcommittee on border and maritime security.

The testimony from officials at the State and Homeland Security Departments comes on the heels of a terrorist plot on the Capitol that was thwarted last month by law enforcement officials.

Amine El Khalifi, a 29-year-old Moroccan, was arrested by the FBI as he made his way to the Capitol wearing what he thought was a suicide bomb vest packed with explosives. El Khalifi was lead to believe that he was working with al Qaeda, rather than undercover FBI agents. He was arrested on Feb. 17 in a parking garage near the Capitol with a MAC-10 weapon and wearing the vest he believed was a functioning bomb.

Law enforcement officials prior to the event had rendered both weapons inoperable. Investigators have not revealed whether the Patriot Act was used as part of the investigation.

“What is especially troubling is that El Khalifi lived illegally in the U.S. for more than 13 years before being identified by law-enforcement,” Miller said.  “The administration’s insistence on administrative amnesty through prosecutorial discretion, which el-Khalifi may have been eligible for before the start of this investigation due to his long presence in this country, certainly gives us pause.  And it’s clear that administrative amnesty could result in deferring action for some illegals to commit more serious crimes and perhaps even those who would go on to try to commit a terrorist attack,” Miller said.

“A robust visa exit system that will prevent terrorists from successfully exploiting the visa process” needs to come online as soon as possible, Miller said.

Since the 2001 terrorist attacks, 36 people who have overstayed their visas have been convicted of terror-related crimes, Miller said. According to The Associated Press, half of the country’s 11 million illegal immigrants have overstayed their visas.

“They don’t just sneak across the desert… they come in the front door,” Miller said.

No follow-up to today’s hearing was discussed.