A GAO study released Tuesday reported that the Department of Homeland Security had lost track of one million individuals whose visas to be in the US had expired. The Government Accountability Office noted that, while DHS monitors individuals entering the country on visas, it does not follow-up to ascertain that the individual left the country when the visa expired. It is estimated that 40% of illegal immigrants currently in the country simply overstayed their visa.
For 17 years, federal law has required the government to develop a system to track when visa holders leave the country. The government has still not implemented such a system. First passed in 1996, the law requiring a “biometric” exit-visa system has been updated by Congress several times. DHS conducted a limited pilot project of an exit-visa system in 2009, but has taken no further action.
The government’s inability to implement a system mandated by Congress, under both Republican and Democrat administrations, goes a long way to explain the skepticism among conservatives of the Senate Amnesty legislation. That bill would provide near-immediate legalization for 11 million illegal immigrants with the promise of increased enforcement in the future.
Even if this increased enforcement is put in place, the CBO estimates it would only reduce illegal immigration, at most, by 50%. Tuesday’s GAO report, however, puts even this modest improvement in doubt. If the government can’t implement an enforcement system almost two decades after being required to do so, it is unlikely it will respond better to new legal requirements.