More than 500,000 visitors overstayed their visas in fiscal year 2015, the Homeland Security Department said in a report released Tuesday night that signals the problems of illegal immigration extend well beyond the land borders and include the millions of people who enter by air or sea.
Overall compliance was 99 percent, meaning almost all of the 45 million visitors the department checked left before their visas expired. But the 1.17 percent defiance rate still meant some 527,127 individuals overstayed, with many of them drifting into the shadows to join the 11 million illegal immigrants already in the country.
More than a quarter of visitors from Laos and Djibouti broke the rules and overstayed their visas. And so-called “special interest countries” considered to be training grounds for terrorists also had high rates of overstays, with Afghanistan posting an 11 percent rate, Iraqis overstaying 7 percent of the time, and Syrians breaking the rules 6.5 percent of the time.
“By not enforcing visa overstays, the administration has flung the border open — millions get temp visas and then freely violate their entry contracts and shred their eviction notices,” the Senate Judiciary Committee’s immigration subcommittee said in a statement.
Subcommittee Chairman Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican, plans to explore the overstay rate at a hearing Wednesday afternoon.
Homeland Security said in the new report that agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement do try to monitor visa overstays to spot potential national security threats.
“This is accomplished through both broad intelligence-driven criteria on subjects that exhibit similar characteristics of known radical organizations and their participants and by activity which focuses ICE investigations on those subjects that are considered to pose a higher risk to national security,” the department said.
Homeland Security said it’s still trying to improve its data collection so it can try to figure out who’s leaving.
By late this year, Customs and Border Protection, the agency that screens arrivals, said it will begin testing the collection of biometric data for those departing the U.S. by air. Such an exit system is decades overdue.
Most of the attention to illegal immigration has gone to the southwest border, where a new surge of Central Americans has challenged Homeland Security’s ability to enforce the law.
But analysts have long said airports and seaports are a major part of the problem for those from other continents, with visitors admitted on visas and then refusing to leave when their time is up.
Indeed, at least five of the hijackers involved in the Sept. 11, 2001 attack had arrived on legal visas but overstayed, leaving them in the country to carry out their plot.