The Department of Homeland Security remains unable to accurately report the number of aliens who illegally overstay their visas into the country more than 12 years after the agency was ordered to employ a tracking system to monitor these individuals, according to a new government oversight report that is highly critical of the department’s efforts.
More than 12 years after DHS was ordered to implement a biometric system to track the number of aliens who leave the United States when their visas expire, the agency is still in the planning stages and has failed to meet its mandated requirement, according the Government Accountability Office, which has been tracking the department’s progress since 2004.
"DHS had not yet fulfilled the 2004 statutory requirement to implement a biometric exit capability or the statutory requirement to report overstay estimates, and as of January 2016, DHS has planning efforts underway but has not yet met these requirements," the GAO concluded in a new report released this month.
The report comes amid disclosures by senior DHS officials that the agency is investigating just 0.05 percent of more than 6 million visa overstays that occurred during the past 20 years.
More than half a million aliens overstayed their temporary visas in the United States in 2015 alone, with more than 482,000 of those individuals believed to still be residing illegally in the United States, according to a separate report issued this month by DHS.
While DHS has a reasonable sense of potential visa overstays, it is not taking any action because they "do not meet [Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s] overstay enforcement priorities," according to the GAO report.
Immigration officials use a federal identification system to determine the number of aliens who entered the country but who are not on record as having left. Most of these individuals are not under investigation.
"ICE analysts … determine whether the subject of the record meets ICE’s overstay enforcement priorities based on national security and public safety criteria," the report concludes. "Most records of potential overstays do not result in enforcement action because they do not meet ICE’s overstay enforcement priorities."
DHS officials have separately confirmed that authorities are investigating around 3,000 individuals who overstayed their visas.
The failure by DHS to implement a biometric tracking system has negatively impacted its ability to track the number of aliens now residing illegally in the United States.
"Challenges in developing and implementing a biometric exit system, as well as weaknesses in departure data, have affected the reliability of DHS’s data on overstays," the GAO concluded.
In 2015 alone, DHS recorded 219 illegal overstays from Afghanistan, 681 from Iraq, 564 from Iran, 56 from Libya, 1,435 from Pakistan, 440 from Syria, and 219 from Yemen. Many are still in the United States illegally.
However, this number could actually be higher, particularly for individuals who came from Latin America, because DHS does not track land borders.
"As of January 2016, DHS has not yet identified mechanisms for collecting data on individuals exiting through southern border ports of entry," according to GAO.
The oversight organization further determined that DHS has been issuing potentially inaccurate overstay information since around 1994.
"Because of concerns about the reliability of the department’s overstay data, neither DHS nor its predecessor has regularly reported annual overstay rates to Congress since 1994," the GAO found.
Congress has appropriated hundreds of millions of dollars for a biometric exit system.
A senior DHS official said last week during testimony before the Senate’s Immigration Subcommittee that there are no technical obstacles to implementing the exit system.
Still, the agency does not have a goal date in mind for when the system will finally be implemented.