It’s been over 8 years since the tragic events of 9/11 and Congress has given over $1 Billion to U.S. immigration authorities to upgrade and expand their systems, but we still don’t have a reliable system for verifying that foreign visitors have left the country.
According to the NY Times, around 2.9 million visitors entered the U.S. last year on temporary visas and never officially checked out. It is suspected that several hundred thousand of these visitors remain in the country illegally, but there is no way to confirm this.
Not only is this an issue that affects counterterrorism efforts, but it is a major immigration issue as well. Of the more than 11 million illegal immigrants in the country, it is estimated that 40% came here on temporary visas and never left.
Our busy land borders, which see more than one million crossings per day, are the biggest problem. A poorly planned exit monitoring system could slow crossings to a crawl and bog down trade.
While we don’t want to do anything that would disrupt trade, especially during a recession, a solution must be found. The whole process of issuing temporary visas is pointless if we have no way of tracking whether or not people actually leave when the visas expire. And if a terrorist can somehow obtain a visa, enter the country legally and then disappear with no one the wiser, we are obviously putting ourselves at risk. The danger was made clear last week with arrest of Hosam Maher Husein Smadi, a 19 year old man from Jordan, who had overstayed his visa and is accused of plotting to blow up a Dallas skyscraper.