- The Washington Times - Friday, August 13, 2004

U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced yesterday that immigration enforcement officers now have the discretion to grant a one-time parole, or pass, to “no-risk travelers” who overstay the maximum number of days allowed under the nation’s visa waiver program.

CBP Commissioner Robert C. Bonner said use of discretion by the agency’s supervisors at major U.S. airports and other ports-of-entry will avoid the detention, searching and handcuffing of foreign nationals visiting the United States, which he described as “inappropriate” for minor waiver program violations.

The visa waiver program permits foreign nationals from certain countries to apply for admission to the United States for 90 days or less as non-immigrant visitors without a visa. Since the September 11 attacks, foreigners who overstay their visas have been denied re-entry and taken into custody when a return flight to their home country was not immediately available.

“A number of situations have come to my attention where CBP officers have denied entry to travelers from visa-waiver countries, on their arrival at U.S. airports, because of brief, prior overstays, sometimes just a few days … although these travelers posed no threat whatsoever to the [United States],” Mr. Bonner said.

Mr. Bonner has directed CBP port directors and supervisors to see that passes are granted to permit re-entry, except when the person poses a threat for terrorism, criminality or is likely to become an economic migrant.

“U.S. Customs and Border Protection is a law-enforcement agency, but enforcement must always be tempered with common sense,” he said. “If individuals are not a potential terrorist threat or criminal threat; nor are likely to contribute to the illegal population, and the overstay was short and inadvertent or for reasons beyond the applicant’s control, CBP officers and supervisors have the authority to parole them into the U.S.”

About 35 percent of the illegal-alien population in the United States is believed to be made up of those who overstayed their visas. Between Oct. 1, the start of the fiscal year, and June 1, 11 million visa-waiver travelers were admitted to the United States while 6,500 were denied entry.

Figures on how many of those who were denied had previously overstayed their visas were not immediately available.

Mr. Bonner said minor violators, who are no threat to the security of the United States, should not be denied entry and be subject to handcuffing and detention. He said the decision would not lessen the agency’s commitment to keeping terrorists out of the country.

He told field agents in a memo there was “an urgent humanitarian reason and a significant public benefit in granting parole where an individual seeking admission under the visa waiver program poses no risk whatsoever.”

Twenty-seven countries qualify for the waiver program: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

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