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Feds Trying to Track a Million Who Have Overstayed Visas

The Department of Homeland Security is paying particular attention to stopping problems at the source. ICE now has personnel in 75 offices in 48 countries who collaborate with various domestic and international agencies to disrupt and dismantle transnational criminal organizations engaged in illicit activities ranging from money laundering to human rights violations.

The agency also facilitates the repatriation of individuals with final orders of removal, returning violators and those unlawfully present to their home countries.

Shonnie Lyon, acting director of the Office of Biometric Identity Management, told the subcommittee that biometric identity management also is playing “a critical role in supporting the Department of Homeland Security’s mission to secure the nation” by providing biometric analysis services within the department and the intelligence community.

While the visa tracking system has shown substantial improvement since 9/11, some gaps remain, according to Rebecca Gambler, director of homeland security and justice in the Government Accountability Office. The Department of Homeland Security is reviewing the records of potential over-stayers to identify national security and public safety threats but a number of unmatched arrival records remain.

As of January 2011, DHS’s Arrival and Departure Information System (ADIS) contained a backlog of 1.6 million potential overstay records. Since then, the department has closed about 863,000 records and removed them from the backlog. But as of April, DHS still maintains more than one million unmatched arrival-departure records – 44 percent involving tourist visas.

Gambler said the department has taken steps to improve data on potential over-stays and overstay rates “but the impact of these changes is not yet known.”

The department continues to have problems providing reliable overstay rates. Federal law requires it to report overstay estimates but it has failed to do so since its creation in 2002, acknowledging in 2011 that it hasn't followed through because it has not had sufficient confidence in the quality of its overstay data. Secretary Janet Napolitano plans to release overstay rates by December 2013.

Problems also exist in establishing a biometric exit system at air and sea ports of entry. Since 1996, federal law has required the implementation of an integrated entry and exit data system for foreign nationals, Gambler said. Earlier this month, the House Homeland Security Committee passed the Border Security Results Act of 2013, which contained a provision requiring the department to develop a plan for a biometric exit capability at ports of entry.

But, while the Department of Homeland Security is focused on developing a biometric exit system for airports, with the potential for a similar solution at seaports, Gambler said it has yet to be determined when the program could be implemented.

“Congress first mandated an entry-exit system for visitors to the U.S. in 1996,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), the committee’s ranking member. “While DHS has made significant progress by implementing a biometric entry system, a solution for biometric exit has been far more difficult to come by. We have seen the troubled history of this effort, from a system of kiosks located in inconvenient and inconsistent locations in airports, to two pilots involving Customs and Border Patrol and the Transportation Security Administration, each of which had advantages and disadvantages. What is needed now is a clear path forward on biometric exit.”