President Joe Biden's Department of Homeland Security quietly released a long-awaited report on Tuesday evening detailing large segments of the illegal immigrant population that it had been keeping from the public, but backdated the report to make it look as if the agency had posted it online when it was expected last year.
The agency posted its 2020 Entry/Exit Overstay Report, which provides an exact accounting of foreign travelers with expired visas who are no longer legally allowed to be in the United States. The release comes two months after the Washington Free Beacon reported in November on the administration's failure to post the report, which the executive branch is legally required to produce annually to Congress and has in the past been promptly shared with the public. While the administration had released the report to select members of Congress, it had yet to be released to the public—a major departure from prior transparency standards.
Though the report wasn't released until Jan. 4, 2022, the DHS website backdated the release date on its website to show it was posted on Sept. 30, 2021, the date the report was submitted to Congress. In previous years, the release date on DHS's website reflects when the report was posted publicly and not when the report was first given to Congress.
DHS did not respond to a request for comment on the decision to backdate the report.
The failure to publicly release the report elicited anger from Republicans on Capitol Hill, who voiced concerns that the administration was withholding the report during negotiations over the White House spending proposals to hide the number of migrants who could receive amnesty under the president's Build Back Better plan. Sens. Josh Hawley (R., Mo.) and James Lankford (R., Okla.) in December sent a letter to DHS chief Alejandro Mayorkas demanding its public release.
"We are concerned that DHS did not publish the FY 2020 Entry/Exit Overstay Report on a public website out of concerns that this report would complicate the conversation around the 'Plan C' amnesty proposals in the Democrats’ partisan reconciliation package," Hawley and Lankford wrote. "Plan C" amnesty refers to the third attempt by Democratic lawmakers to get the Senate parliamentarian to allow the inclusion of immigration reform in their budget reconciliation bill.
The now-public 2020 report documents the "highest 'suspected in country overstay rate' of all the public reports out there," one immigration expert who viewed the report told the Free Beacon. According to the data provided by DHS, 584,885 foreign nationals overstayed their visa, compared with 497,272 in 2019.
That record-breaking overstay rate is due to "the COVID-19 outbreak," Mayorkas says in the report, calling it "an anomaly when compared with the prevailing trend" of declining overstays over the years. He wrote that DHS "will continue to publicly release this report, at a minimum, on an annual basis," ignoring the fact that no report was published publicly last year.
Those identified as potential visa overstays in the report are not necessarily targeted for removal by immigration authorities. Congress mandated that the report be released annually to the public due to the belief that "the large number of annual in-country alien overstays threatens national security and the integrity of legal immigration."
Trump targeted visa overstay rates in an April 2019 executive order that directed DHS to "engage with the governments of countries with [high] total overstay [rates]."
The 2021 fiscal year saw more recorded illegal border crossings than at any time in U.S. history. November saw an increase in border crossings after a three-month downward trend.
Biden's handling of the visa overstay report is part of a broader culture of secrecy from the White House on the topic of immigration. The Free Beacon reported on Wednesday that Immigration and Customs Enforcement has yet to release its annual report detailing the number of illegal immigrants removed from the United States in 2021.